Turkish police have detained workers protesting over labor conditions at Istanbul’s new airport, a union leader said on Saturday that a giant project championed by President Tayyip Erdogan and due to open next month. The protest erupts after a shuttle bus accident on Friday in which 17 workers were injured, said by the general manager of the Dev Yapi-Is union Ozgur Karabulut. Thousands of workers joined the demonstration, which was broken up by police and gendarmes deploying in riot control vehicles and firing tear gas, he said.
“They broke into the workers’ camp with 30 gendarmeries, broke down the doors and detained around 500 workers,” Karabulut told Reuters by phone. He said he was speaking from a local gendarmerie where he was seeking the workers’ release.
Unions have long complained about working conditions and labor safety at the airport, but under a state of emergency imposed after a failed 2016 military coup and only lifted in July, rights to strike or protest were curtailed. According to our correspondent.
Workers have also complained about the poor food at the site, bed bugs in their sleeping quarters and delayed salaries. Pictures they posted online showed cracks in the ceilings and walls of the container homes where they are housed.
The new airport, which Turkey says will become the biggest in the world, is one of the showcase projects of a 15-year construction boom under Erdogan who has overseen the building of bridges, ports, and railways which have transformed the country. The airport is scheduled to open at the end of October, but Karabulut said that was in doubt because the remaining work would take another two months. Karabulut said the union had received only verbal pledges from IGA and wanted commitments in writing. But he said many workers were unable to continue protesting.
“Most of them had to go to work today under pressure and under threat,” he said. “So they went to work today unwillingly but they want the public to know that they will be protesting tonight if their friends are not released.”