Hundreds of workers held after protest at new Istanbul airport: Unions

ISTANBUL: Hundreds of workers on the construction site of Istanbul’s third airport, one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s mega development projects, have been arrested for protesting at the number of work-related deaths and poor conditions, unions said Saturday (Sep 15).

"500 workers at the third airport have been arrested," Turkey’s revolutionary unions confederation (Disk) tweeted.

A police officer checks the bag of a worker at the entrance to the construction site of(Photo:AFP)

Security forces had Friday dispersed a demonstration by hundreds of workers outside the new airport, which was due to be completed in October, the private DHA news agency reported.

Security forces patrol the entrance to the site of Istanbul's new airport after police detainedSecurity forces patrol the entrance to the site of Istanbul’s new airport after police detained hundreds of workers followoing a protest over labour conditions AFP/BULENT KILIC

The protesters complained of work-related deaths and accidents as well as poor on-site living and labour conditions.

The opposition daily Cumhuriyet quoted live-in workers complaining about fleas and bed bugs at the site.

The airport construction and operating company, Istanbul Grand Airport, issued a statement saying management had met the workers and pledged to take measures to resolve the issues quickly.

A spokesman for IGA refused further comment on Saturday.

The hashtag supporting the workers, "we are not slaves" (#köledegiliz) was trending strongly in Turkey on Saturday.

Dozens of security forces, backed by armoured vehicles, controlled access to the site on Saturday, AFP journalists said.

When the first plane landed at IGA in June, Erdogan said the new airport will be the biggest in the world with a first phase capacity of 90 million passengers a year going up to 150 million in 2023.

Some 35,000 people are employed on the project including, 3,000 engineers and administrative staff.

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Twenty-seven works have died at the construction site – 13 in work-related accidents, the transport minister said during a press visit to the airport last April.

However, several workers, asking not to be named, told AFP on Saturday that the ministry figures were far too low and that accidents were very common at the site.