Turkish police fire tear gas at builders striking on new Istanbul airport site

Turkish police and gendarmes fired tear gas at a workers’ protest over deaths and poor working conditions during the construction of Istanbul’s third airport, a showcase mega-project for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, Evrensel newspaper reported on Friday.

The workers began strike action early on Friday and the number of protestors increased during the day.

The Union of Construction Workers said on Twitter that workers were on strike because of the increasing number who had lost their lives or been injured as a result of workplace accidents, and due to worsening working conditions as authorities rush to open the airport on Oct. 29.

“In the last couple of days, two of our friends fell from the roof, one of them is right now in surgery Our working conditions are horrible,” one worker told Evrensel.

Two shuttle buses carrying airport construction workers crashed this week injuring 17 people. 

Workers complain they have to wait for hours in the rain for shuttle busses to arrive to take them to and from work and say their dormitories are full of bedbugs and fleas.

The airport, set to be the largest in Europe, is being built by a consortium of Turkish companies with close links to the government.

According to workers, many sub-contractors working on the project have gone bankrupt as a result of the Turkish lira dropping by 40 percent this year and have left the project without paying wages. “Those working for the prime contractor are being paid, but most of those working for sub-contractors can not get their salaries,” one worker said.

“You say this is a world project, but then you fail to feed your workers in a sector earning millions of dollars,” said another worker, explaining that workers recruited by sub-contractors were not allowed to eat at cafeterias on the site. 

“The workers are not even allowed to go to the toilet. We do not even have refrigerators. We are taking showers by using the water coming from ponds near the constructions site,” another worker said. 

A union representatives told Evrensel that workers who had been filming the protests were threatened. The gendarmes first warned workers, Evrensel said, then used teargas.

Some 30,000 people work at the construction site, Artı Gerçek news site said

In February, the Labour Ministry said 27 workers had been killed constructing the airport, responding to claims that 400 people had lost their lives there.