Work-related Migrant/Refugee Deaths in Turkey Reaches at 108 in 2018

Health and Safety Labour Watch-Turkey published the results of its yearly report on “murders because of work” regarding migrant workers. HESA Labour Watch-Turkey is a network organization carried out by workers and their families from various industries, lines of work, and professions fighting for a healthy and safe life and working conditions.  HESA Labour Watch defines certain worker deaths as “murders because of work” rather than “work accidents” to highlight that all work accidents and occupational illnesses are preventable. Therefore, we are presenting you the results of this valuable report in an English translation that complies with the terminology used in the original.

Health and Safety Labour Watch /Turkey

Migrant/refugee workers are part of Turkey’s working class… common struggle common organization…
At least 108 migrant/refugee lost their lives in 2018…

HESA Labour Watch released six reports concering migrant workers in the last three years, in which they mentioned and discussed several issues involving;

• Migrants/refugees do not only loose their lives in Aegean waters but also while working,
• The bargaining on migrants/refugees with European Union,
• Migrants/refugees are seen as cheap labour power by the bosses,
• Labour union  organizations lack a ‘migrant/refugee worker policy’; and the existing statements and practices of the confederations with this regard,
• The workers in Turkey see the migrant/refugee workers standoffish due to the economic, social and cultural reasons including the concern on loosing their jobs or on jihadism.
• As a significant component of those who loose their lives due to murders because of work, a ‘common organization, common struggle’ perspective shall be constructed,
• Migrant/refugee children are put in work in industry,
• Migrant/refugee worker organization models from the world (South Korea and Spain) shall be examined,

Migrant/refugee worker deaths in 2018

Until 18th of December, the rate of deaths HESA could track has reached at 108 for migrant/refugee workers. They have identified the 14 percent of these deaths through the medical doctors they have contact in Istanbul. Therefore HESA asserts “none of the deaths has been brought to written, visual or digital media or social media, just we shared them in our social media accounts. It means that there are much more migrant worker deaths beyond our knowledge”

The rates of the ‘detectable’ migrant/refugee murders because of work, show increase according to years: as 22 in 2013, 53 in 2014, 67 in 2015, 96 in 216, 88 in 2017, and 108 in 2018.

When seen in comparison to the whole amount of murders because of work, the rate of migrant/refugee deaths are again in increase: as 2 percent in 2013; 3 percent in 2014; 4 percent in 2015; 5 percent in 2016; 4 percent in 2017; and 6 percent in 2018.

However, with the assumption that there should be much more migrant/refugee worker deaths beyond our knowledge, the actual rate should be somewhere around 10 percent, the Labour Watch interprets.

Why we call migrant/refugee worker?

HESA also explains why they rather using a conjoint term as “migrant/refugee worker” in their reports: “While the labour movement traditionally uses the term “migrant worker”, the substantial determinant of that condition in today’s Turkey is indeed the “refuge” caused by the war conditions. In this sense, we think that the notions of migrant worker or refugee worker alone would remain insufficient”

The countries of origin of the migrants murdered because of work/2018

When the countries of origin are concerned on the migrant/refugee workers murdered because of work, the countries with ongoing war conditions, such as Syria and Afghanistan are uppormost. With Iraq involved, altogether 3 out of 4 migrants/refugees who lost their lives are coming from wartorn countries:

48 workers are from Syria; 28 from Afghanistan; 5 from Azerbaijan; 4  each from the countries of Iraq, Pakistan and Turkmenistan; 2 each from the countries of Georgia, Iran, Russia and Ukraina; and 1 each from the countries of India, Kyrgyzstan, Hungary, Nigeria, Uzbekhstan, Tajikistan and Zimbabwe.

Migrant/refugee worker exploitation

Migrant/refugee workers died while they were employed in the following labour sectors: 35 of them in construction/road, 34 in agriculture/foresting, 7 in municipal/general labour, 5 in food sector, 5 in chemistry, 3 in minery, 3 in textile, 3 in metal, 3 in transportation, 3 in shipping, 3 in accommodation/entertainment, 2 in energy, 1 in trade and 1 in an unidentified sector.

Therefore, HESA evaluates the working conditions in the relevant sectors:

Under the conditions of crisis, migrant/refugee workers are even more significant as lowpaid and precarious labour force. Up-to 16 hours working days; drudgery and verbal/physical violence; unventilated and unlit working environments without protective equipment; employment with below minimum-income salary and without social security; arbitrary dismissals in case of unionization or slowdown strike are all the employment conditions the bosses are looking forward to.

By stating that migrant/refugee workers “are filling the labour gap in the positions that Turkish workers are not working”,  the political powers are putting forward how they consider the labour market in the country. What is conceptualized as “labour gap” became a condition that equals to employing people against the ‘equal work equal payment’ principle as well as the labour law and concerning legislation.

Migrant/refugee workers are incorporated to Turkey’s labour market as unregistered and informal workers in the sectors of mining, agriculture, construction and textile; in under the table workshops and contract manufacturing workplaces. The bosses embitter the ethnic and secterian tensions between the workers while seeing the migrant/refugee workers as tools to suppress the increase in salaries and wages against the other workers.

Migrant/refugee workers are seen as labour reserve in order to increase the benefit rates and enable the capital accummulation, and therefore they are exploited all the way. Today formal and informal workers in many cities of Turkey are having a life struggle within a socially and economically disadvantaged position. Migrant/refugee workers work in almost all labour sectors around Turkey, from the Georgian workers in the Black Sea towns of nut and tea production; to the Syrian, Afghan and Middle Asian workers working in food, textile, construction and municipalities of the main cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir and Bursa. In some cities migrant/refugee workers are open target to nationalist provocations.”

On Syrian Workers

Among the 1,959,970 male and 1,651,864 female Syrians, the working age population is around 2 milion. However, 99 percent of those who are working are employed informally, and only 14,745 Syrians are granted working permit since 2016.

According to a research titled ‘Syrian Asylum-Seekers’ Incorporation Processes to the Labour Market in Turkey and its Effects: the Case of Istanbul Textile Sector’, 46 percent of male and 63 percent of female workers with Turkish nationality declare that they work without insurance, while the rate is 99 percent for male and 100 percent for female workers with Syrian origin.

The working age goes down till 6-years-old for Syrians. The sectors Syrian children working, such as textile, service and industry, are varied according to the basic income activities in the neighborhood they are living.

Still the researches conducted on Syrian workers should be extended to workers from other origin countries, starting from Afghans, HESA underlines.

Finally the report mentions the ‘right to alimentation’ struggle of the Indian workers employed at Aliağa Petkim Star Refinery, and the work stoppage and the association committed by Syrian and Turkish agricultural workers together at Torbalı, which finally achieved a partial wage increase. Therefore with a hope to augment such examples, the report ends with the claim that migrant/refugee workers are a part of Turkey’s working class: common struggle, common organization!

108 “migrant worker” died – the cities of ‘murders because of work’: İstanbul:24, Bursa: 7, Denizli: 5, Gaziantep:5, Şanlıurfa: 5 The reasons of deaths: falling 24%, traffic/transportation accident 19%, crush/collapse 14% . Female 10, male 98, child 11. According to employment sectors: agriculture 35-33%; construction 34- 32%; municipal 7-7%; chemistry 5-5%; mining 3-3%


This article was translated and edited from the original version published by Health and Safety Labour Watch /Turkey