Social Dialogue matters
On 13 May 2013 about 300 mineworkers in Turkey died in the SOMA coal mines. This tragedy sparked international attention for the work safety problems in Turkey as the SOMA disaster is not as unique as one might think. Work related accidents in Turkey are a daily reality for many.
In protest against the lack of a clear government policy for workers’ safety; some NGO’s have started weekly rallies protesting against what they call are ‘work related murders’ (more information here and here). The European union equally pushed Turkey to develop policies that could protect the health and safety of workers and to include the social partners in the development of these policies, too little avail.
From various data sources we can see that (fatal) work related accidents in Turkey are very high, definitely in the mining and construction sector. Overall, some improvement is visible regarding the amount of accidents and the working conditions in general. Yet, there is still a long way to go before Turkish workplaces can be considered safe.
Work related accidents: between 74.871 and … 706.000 in 2013
Thanks to the introduction of two special modules on work related accidents in 2007 and 2013, we can get an idea about the extent of the problem. Based on these survey results, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) concluded that in 2013 about 2,3% of the persons who were employed, encountered an accident in the last 12 months. In 2007 this percentage was 3%. In total numbers this amounts to 706.000 work related accidents per year.
The mining and quarrying sector is responsible for about 10% of the accidents. The electricity, gas, steam, water and sewerage sector for 5,2% and the construction sector for about 4,3% of all work related accidents. In these sectors, no progress is observed between 2007 and 2013.
These figures are considerably higher than the official figures provided by the Social Security Institution. According to these figures the total number of work related accidents in 2013 was 74.871. The difference between these figures can possibly be attributed to the size of the informal (and thus uninsured) employment in Turkey, but might also be caused by the non-reporting of minor accidents.
These household labour force survey data does not provide insight in the total and relative number of fatal accidents in Turkey. According to the official statistics a total of 744 workers died in labour related accidents in 2012. This is a decrease compared to previous years where about 1000 to 1700 people died yearly.
This figure is most likely an underestimation of the real number of work related fatalities given the previously mentioned size of the informal economy. Estimates vary between 30 and 50% of the Turkish employment that would be informal which would bring the total (estimated) work related fatalities somewhere between 1000 and 3000 yearly.
Progress in work related deaths is difficult to observe. As mentioned before, in 2013 the amount of work related deaths was relatively low. With the SOMA tragedy, an increase will is very likely to be observed in 2014.
Working in unsafe environments
The occurrence of work related accidents depend on the work environment of the employees and the risks they take in doing their job. Thanks to the results of the 2005 and 2010 wave of the European Working Conditions Survey, we get an idea of the amount of employees in Turkey that work under risky conditions.
The picture is relatively mixed. In 2010 about 27% of the employees had the feeling that their health or safety was at risk in their job. In 2005 this proportion still was over 44%, signalling a massive improvement of the situation. The 2010 proportion of 27% comes close to the EU 27 average of 24%.
Also when it comes to information regarding safety risks, a massive improvement is obvious from the results. In 2005 about 58% thought they were not very well informed, in 2010 this proportion declined to 33%. Although this is a considerable improvement, it is still very far from the EU 27 average in which only about 10% of the employees think they are not well informed about safety risks. In 2010, most employees said that they used protective equipment when required. About 12% said they did not always do so. This figure is well above the EU 27 average of about 8%.
New Davutoglu policy
In a reaction to the recent labour fatalities Ahmet Davutoglu announced several measures to be taken that should make working in Turkey safer. The announced policies concentrate mostly on punishing those liable for workplace accidents with higher financial punishments or even prison terms. Companies found liable would even be banned from public tendering for two years (source Todays Zaman). If a harder punishment of those liable will suffice for making workplaces safer in Turkey is a matter of debate.
Still a long way to go
The recent events in Turkey indicated that workers’ safety is a issue of growing concern. The figures at hand confirm that workers in Turkey run a considerable risk of encountering a labour related accident and a considerable number of employees die because of their work every year. While the number of accidents and labour related deaths does not seem to decrease dramatically over the years, some positive evolutions are evident regarding the working conditions. More and more employees in Turkey feel that their work is no threat to their health and feel sufficiently informed about safety risks. Notwithstanding these positive evolutions, there is still a safety gap with the EU average and work related safety should thus remain on the priority list of the Turkish labour market policy.
Publication date: 02 December 2014