Turkey in bid to reduce huge toll of workplace deaths
ANKARA – Agence France-Presse
The latest disaster came in October when 18 miners were trapped in a mine in the Central Anatolian province of Karaman’s Ermenek district, after water flooded into their shaft from a neighboring disused mine. AA PhotoTurkey has launched a new drive to improve its appalling workplace safety standards that leave hundreds dead every year, two weeks after its latest deadly mining accident.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters on Nov. 12 that the centerpiece of the new reforms would be a carrot-and-stick approach, whereby employers would be financially rewarded for a good safety record and punished for accidents.
Davutoğlu said controls would be stepped up in the mining and construction industries, mainstays of the Turkish economy that account for the bulk of workplace accidents.
“A change of mentality is indispensable, whether we are talking about an employee or their employer,” he said, admitting that it was difficult to prevent death at work through a single law.
“It is important for our citizens and workers to have awareness regarding their safety,” he added.
Some 1,400 fatal accidents at work have been recorded in the country this year alone.
Davutoğlu said the reform would be based around a “reward and punishment” system for companies. “We will reward businesses with no recorded accident. For example, if no accidents were recorded at a firm within the ‘very dangerous job category’ we’ll collect 1 percent unemployment premium instead of 2 percent,” he said.
However, where accidents are recorded, the premiums will be higher and the company could face heavy fines as well as criminal charges.
Those with fatal accidents will also be barred from public tender offers for a two-year period, he added. “Companies will be banned from public tenders for two years if convicted over liability in a fatal accident in the workplace,” Davutoğlu said.
The latest disaster came in October wheren 18 miners were trapped in a mine in the Central Anatolian province of Karaman’s Ermenek district, after water flooded into their shaft from a neighboring disused mine. Two bodies have been recovered and there is now no hope of finding any of missing 16 workers alive.
That disaster laid bare Turkey’s continued shortcomings on workplace safety, even after its worst ever industrial accident when 301 workers died at the Soma mine in May this year.
After the Soma catastrophe, Turkey adopted new legislation seeking to improve safety in mines. Davutoğlu said the latest reforms would be sent to Parliament for adoption “in the shortest possible time.”
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç told reporters on Nov. 10, following a Cabinet meeting in Ankara, that the energy and labor ministers had made presentations to the Cabinet on the latest efforts regarding workers’ safety and Turkey’s mining sector. Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, Labor Minister Faruk Çelik and Transport Minister Lütfi Elvan had been at the Ermenek mine site to monitor efforts to reach the trapped miners before the Nov. 10 meeting.
The government started to work on restricting work safety measures after 10 workers died in an elevator accident at a huge construction site in central Istanbul in September.
The deaths of 10 workers after an elevator plunged from the 32nd floor on Sept. 6 caused indignation, especially after the construction company, Torunlar, refused to accept responsibility for the accident.
The incident also prompted the public to question Turkey’s construction boom in recent years, particularly in Istanbul, where huge residential complex projects are spreading rapidly across the city.
Torunlar announced in a statement that it would halt work at the construction site indefinitely due to the start of the investigation and for five days at other construction sites. However, the company again rejected accusations of negligence in a separate statement, claiming that the elevators were inspected on May 30. It also denied claims that workers were not provided with safety training.
It further said the workers who were killed were not supposed to be working at the time. “Our company has instructed [workers] to function in line with the rules prescribed by the Environment and Urban Planning Ministry. It is out of the question that the construction site was open to work on its whole at that time,” the statement read.
Other documents, however, showed that authorities granted Torunlar the right to continue construction on the luxury housing site around the clock because it was in the “public interest.”