Why Turkey keeps killing its workers

Why Turkey keeps killing its workers

Yet another “work accident” took place in Turkey last week, when an elevator at the construction of a luxury skyscraper in the middle of Istanbul collapsed. Ten workers died right on spot, leaving behind traumatized families and angry protesters. The latter hit the streets to condemn the recurrent “massacres of workers,” which included the recent tragedy in Soma, where some 301 workers were horrifically killed in a coal mine in May. The authorities, as is now usual, responded with police and tear gas.

All these repeated dramas indicate that there is something terribly wrong about Turkey’s standards for work safety. The numbers prove the point, too. Between 1946 and 2010, nearly 60,000 people lost their lives in Turkey to “work accidents.” Since 2001, another 11,000 have lost their lives. That is why Turkey ranks as the worst country in Europe with regard to work accidents. In the world, it ranks as one of the worst 10.

But why? The left, which is often the leading voice for workers, take the easy way of blaming none other than “capitalism.” But Turkey was no better when today’s privately owned businesses were owned by the state instead. Moreover, the world’s most advanced capitalist states, such as the United States or Germany, rank far better than Turkey in this regard. One should recall that workers’ conditions in communist countries, such as Mao’s China, were simply horrific. 

On a closer look, what really defines work safety is not whether an industrial enterprise is owned by a private company or a state. It is rather by which culture that enterprise is managed. And Turkey’s problem is right there: The culture of negligence, as I call it.

You can see this culture of negligence in every aspect of daily life. If you get on a taxi in Turkey, for example, it is almost certain that your driver will not be wearing a seat belt. (Whether you will be lucky enough to even find a seat belt in your back seat is another question.) In fact, not just taxi drivers, but the majority of male drivers in Turkey avoid seatbelts and find ways to get rid of the “beep, beep” signals that most cars give when you are not fastened: They simply cut the seatbelt and buckle its metal parts without the belt. If you ask them why, they will say, “Don’t worry, nothing will happen.”

Behind this phenomenon lies a particular mindset, which happily uses a modern device (a car), but refuses to take the modern precautions that this device necessitates. Last week’s deadly elevator accident seems to be the result of a similar mindset too: Workers said to the press that the elevator was half-broken for a while, and they told this to their superiors, but they were still made to use it.
Probably someone said, “Don’t worry, nothing will happen.”

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is not responsible for creating this deadly culture of negligence, which is a national problem. But it is responsible for not trying to cure it. President Tayyip Erdoğan has even made the mistake of offering “fate” as an explanation for these accidents, promoting a mistaken fatalism that was rightly criticized by enlightened Islamic thinkers. Hence the government must take serious measures from now on, such as signing and implementing the standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO). And it should actively fight against the “don’t worry, nothing will happen” culture. Accidents do happen, and they keep killing so many innocent people.