A mega new international airport for Turkey’s biggest city will open as scheduled on Turkish Republic Day this year . The confirmation came from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the wake of strikes by builders working on the site.
“The opening date is Oct 29, tests have been carried out… The terminal building is ready, the runways are really beautiful,” Mr Erdoğan told journalists before he left for New York last week.
Hundreds of workers building Istanbul’s third airport recently went on strike to protest against poor conditions and workplace fatalities. While the government claimed in February that just 27 workers had died since construction began in 2015, others claim as many as 400 may have been killed in work-related accidents, prompting government opponents to dub the new airport “a cemetery”.
Government officials have shown some sympathy for workers’ complaints, however those who chose to protest were met with a heavy-handed response from the authorities. At least 500 people were arrested, unions said.
Security forces keep the peace at Istanbul’s 3rd airport
Since then, police have been stationed at the site alongside security to ensure there are no more protests, while the government has told the five main operators to urgently address the concerns of workers so the airport can be completed on time. The issues are thought to stem from sub-contractors who have failed to offer the same pay and working conditions as those employed directly by the Cengiz-MAPA-Limak-Kolin-Kalyon Consortium, which is responsible for the airport.
The consortium companies possess a wealth of experience between them, having built İstanbul Sabiha Gökçen and Ordu-Giresun airports in Turkey, along with Pristina (Kosovo), Cairo Terminal 2 (Egypt), Baku Heydar Aliyev (Azerbaijan), Hawler – Erbil and Dohuk airports (both in Northern Iraq).
Some 35,000 people are currently employed on the new, as yet unnamed third Istanbul airport project, including 3,000 engineers and administrative staff.
“We are again forced to wait in the rain like slaves. As gendarmerie and police are everywhere, we can only vocalise our protest by whistling. A short while ago, four of our friends were arrested, we think they will carry out a night-time operation too.”
“Yine köle gibi yağmurun altında bekletildik. Her yerde jandarma ve polis olduğundan tepkimizi yalnızca ıslık çalarak dile getirebiliyoruz. Az önce dört arkadaşımızı gözaltına aldılar, bu gece de operasyon yapacaklarını düşünüyoruz.” #KöleDeğiliz pic.twitter.com/htOxq2kkWL
— İnşaat-İş Sendikası (@insaatsendika) September 25, 2018
Health and safety remains a widespread problem in Turkey. A total of 2,006 workers were killed in workplace accidents last year, according to a report by the Workers’ Health and Work Safety Assembly (İSİGM) published on 6 Jan. 2018. The report noted that the number of deaths was up on 2016 figures, when 1,970 workers were killed across the country.
Construction remains the worst sector for work-place deaths: 453 workers were killed in the construction industry compared to 385 workers in agriculture and forestry, and 272 workers in transportation.
The worker-related problems at the new airport had created speculation that its grand opening could be pushed back to the end of the year, but Mr Erdoğan dismissed any talk of delay.
“There is no such prospect,” declared the Turkish President , who visited the site on Saturday, 22 September. At the same time, he announced that Atatürk Airport, due to be replaced by the new facility, would not be closed immediately for redevelopment.
“Atatürk Airport is not going to halt activity immediately. There will be a transition period,” he said.
The Turkish government has claimed the new airport, built by Lake Terkos north of the city on the European side of Istanbul, will be “the biggest in the world”. Costing some 10 bn Turkish lira, it is expected to initially handle up to 90 million passengers a year, rising to 200 million.
Main photo: Aerial shot of Istanbul’s third airport as it nears completion. Photo courtesy of İGA, a 5-company consortium building and operating the new airport