Turkey Security Forces Quash Airport Protest, Detain Workers

(Bloomberg) -- Hundreds of workers who started a protest against conditions at the construction site of Istanbul’s new airport were detained over the weekend, as the clock ticks toward the planned Oct. 29 opening of the facility. The main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, has asked for a parliamentary inquiry into work conditions.

Government forces detained 401 workers over the weekend, later releasing 275, Hurriyet newspaper cited Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin as saying. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one worker expressed shock at the security sweep, saying they had not even asked for a pay rise.

A handwritten list of demands circulating on social media includes items such as removing bugs from bedding, improving meals, job safety and payments for workers who haven’t received salaries for as long as six months.

“I’ve been working at the airport site for the past 16 months,” a worker told Bloomberg on Monday by phone, speaking on condition of anonymity on fear of reprisal. “Ten hours a day, plus two hours at the shuttles -- all for 2,500 liras ($400) a month. If I do overtime, I can make that about 3,500.”

On Sunday, Sabah newspaper labeled the action as “the second Gezi provocation,” referring to the 2013 anti-government protests. Terrorists have infiltrated the airport “under the guise of workers,” Sabah claimed. In a Yeni Birlik newspaper column published on Monday, Ilnur Cevik, an adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said “about 400 extreme left militants” have provoked workers.

Even though he doesn’t stay nights at the site, the worker interviewed said he had seen bedbugs and been made sick by meals more than once. “What we wanted wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “Just an improvement in conditions. We didn’t even ask for a pay rise, as people are barely being paid their current salaries.”

A consortium of five companies, including Limak Holding AS, Cengiz Insaat Sanayi ve Ticaret AS and Kalyon Insaat Sanayi ve Ticaret AS, won the bidding for the airport in 2013, offering to pay 22.2 billion euros to build the facility and operate it for 25 years. The airport will serve 90 million passengers a year in its first phase and the number will rise to 150 million after full completion.

After the weekend’s security sweep, people fear losing their jobs, the worker said. “Aren’t we human beings? Are we sheep for slaughter? If so, they should kill us outright.”

An official at IGA Havalimani Isletmesi, the builder of the airport, confirmed some workers have been detained over the weekend. Those released have resumed work, the official said, who asked not to be named due to company policy.

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