Detained Airport Workers Are ‘Hostages’, Says Turkish Labor Union
A leading Turkish union on Friday called for the release of two dozen workers arrested after they protested poor working conditions while building Istanbul’s giant new airport, saying they were being held as “hostages”.
Hundreds of workers were rounded up in raids earlier this month and, although most were later released, 24 were remanded in custody ahead of trial by an Istanbul court.
Workers are racing to finish the new airport — a prestige project championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — in time for the October 29 official opening date.
“Airport workers were detained just because they spoke out for their rights. This is not detention, they are being held as hostages,” Nihat Demir, secretary-general of Dev Yapi-Is union, told AFP after a news conference urging their release.
The protesters went on strike over alleged labour violations in the construction of the airport, ranging from lax work safety that led to deadly accidents, to irregular shuttle services to and from the site.
Demir said the union had been denied access to investigate the situation on the ground or to communicate with its members.
“There is a serious pressure. “Workers are going to lunch guarded by police… their shelters are also guarded by police,” he said.
“Security does not let anyone in. If… a worker falls and dies, police and security seal of all the area and do not allow anyone to come closer.”
Demir said the airport, on which construction started in 2015, was unlikely to be finished on time.
“Even if it will open as scheduled, it will be dangerous,” he said.
Erdogan earlier this month insisted the airport would open on time but acknowledged there would be a transition period where Istanbul’s existing main airport — Ataturk International — would continue functioning alongside it, before closing for good.