Turkish builders sack 15,000 Istanbul workers, ship off sick without tests

Turkish construction companies in Istanbul have laid off more than 15,000 workers in the past 15 days as the outbreak of the coronavirus spread, Evrensel news website reported, citing a labour union.

The firms forced workers to sleep together in packed containers, fed them in crowded cafes and took no steps on hygiene, before shipping off the sick in buses to their home provinces without testing them for the illness, according to union Dev Yapı-İş, Evrensel said on Thursday.   

Many of the employees travelled to Istanbul from faraway towns and villages to find work and lived on building sites. Almost all of those dismissed have not received financial compensation stipulated by Turkish law, Dev Yapı-İş said.

Turkey’s construction industry had boomed in the years after the global financial crisis of 2008, but business slowed sharply following currency turmoil in the country in 2018. The outbreak of the coronavirus, which began In the middle of last month, has compounded the industry’s problems.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has encouraged the construction boom, which saw skyscrapers go up across Istanbul, the country’s biggest city. But he is now calling on companies in all sectors of the economy to keep workers employed, and offering to help them restructure debts and extend bank overdrafts to ease any financial troubles.