Workers forced to build new airport under gendarmerie supervision in Istanbul

Workers employed to build Istanbul’s third airport have been coerced into working under strict supervision by gendarmerie and police supervision after downing tools to protest dangerous working conditions, Voice of America’s Turkish-language site reported on Monday.

Thousands of workers employed on the project joined the strike last Friday after a service bus accident injured 17.

This was the latest in a series of work accidents that had killed at least 27 employees at the site since 2015. Unofficial sources say the number was much higher.

The striking workers also complained they had been left unpaid, stranded on site during holidays or under the rain on work days due to a lack of service buses, and forced to stay in vermin-infested dormitories.

Police and gendarmerie intervened on the strike last weekend, firing tear gas at gathered workers and detaining a number of people.

On Monday the workers had returned to their posts on site despite their employers’ refusal to meet their demands.

In fact, they had been forced back to work by threats that strikers would be arrested or have their wages withheld, Voice of America quoted union leader Ali Öztutan as saying.

Another union representative, Özgür Karabulut, said it was unclear whether the industrial action would continue.

“They don’t even let the workers breathe,” Karabulut said, adding that 163 of the 401 detained during the strike are still being held.

The third airport project is set to open in October, though work is projected to continue until 2030 on what is planned to be the world’s largest airport.