Workers at Turkish Shipbreakers Striking for Wage Increases

strike at Turkish shipbreakers
Ships beached in Turkey for dismantling (file photo)

Published Feb 16, 2022 3:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

Workers at the shipbreaking yards in Turkey reportedly are on strike calling for better wages and working conditions. The latest protest demonstrations taking place at the officers of the Ship Recycler’s Association and the individual scrapyards follow more widespread protests in Turkey over inflation and the cost of living.

In January, Turkey raised the price of electricity by 50 percent for all users and doubled the price for large-scale users such as businesses and industrial sites. At the same time, the overall cost of living has been skyrocketing driven by price increases on basic consumer goods.

Media reports said that thousands of citizens across Turkey were protesting against the massive price hikes for electricity. There were reports of demonstrations in the streets of major cities in the provinces of Izmir, Mardin, and Diyarbakir. The shipbreaking facilities are located in Izmir in the Aliaga district.

Following the protests over the price of electricity, there are reports that approximately 1,500 workers from the shipbreaking yards started their protests. The group NGO Shipbreaking Platform says that work was stopped at 22 facilities in the region. After demonstrating in front of the offices of the association, the workers reportedly marched to the yards blocking the roads and shouting their demands for better wages.

A reported terms sheet for the negotiations posted on the Internet shows that the workers are demanding salary increases with fixed rates by duty in the yards as well as raises every six months in the face of rapid inflation. They are also calling for overtime pay on holidays as well as paid leave and stopping the common practice of docking workers’ pay for days when weather conditions prevent work. They are also demanding protection for all the strikers, secure and decent working conditions, and improved social facilities.

NGO Shipbreaking Platform and local groups are also using the strike as an opportunity to again highlight the dangers and working conditions even at the shipyards that won EU approval. According to the groups, the causes of injuries and deaths in Aliaga have remained largely the same for over 30 years. Local NGOs?reportedly have documented?at least 44 occupational deaths since 1992. Last year, five workers lost their lives, and so far this year, two workers were seriously?injured?and are currently being treated in a hospital.

"We hope that the current strike and recent accidents will prompt a significant improvement in terms of occupational health and safety for the workers in Aliaga,” said Nicola Mulinaris, Senior Communication and Policy Advisor for NGO Shipbreaking Platform. “We invite the European Commission to take this information into account when reviewing facilities already included in the EU List and new candidates for inclusion."

Beyond the workplace accidents, Istanbul Health and Safety Labour Watch contend that cases are going unreported where workers fall sick and die of occupational diseases after being exposed to toxins found on ships. They point to much higher cancer rates in Aliaga than the Turkish average. They say that workers are not given proper protective gear when working on the ships and dealing for example with asbestos, which is a common hazard on older ships.

Longer-term, NGO Shipbreaking Platform is calling for the Turkish yards to transition from the current method of recycling ships. They want the method of beaching ships on the open shoreline progressively phased out, in favor of the use of fully contained areas for scrapping.