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Turkish trade union leader Ozgur Karabulut arrested

Union president targeted for role in Istanbul airport construction site dispute

TURKISH trade unions have demanded the release of building workers’ leader Ozgur Karabulut, who was detained by the notorious gendarmes yesterday for his role in the Istanbul airport construction site dispute.

Mr Karabulut, president of the Dev Yapi-Is union, was taken into custody at the headquarters of the Disk labour confederation in Istanbul as the number of workers arrested for taking part in last month’s strike increased to 34.

He appeared in court yesterday charged with “resisting the fulfilment of duty,” “violating the freedom of work and labour,” “damaging public property” and "attending meetings and marches with weapons etc.”

Disk president Arzu Cerkezoglu warned of an “increased pressure and violence” being waged against workers building Istanbul’s new airport, who have described the conditions there as akin to modern slavery.

The airport is a flagship project for authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is due for completion on October 29, Republic Day.

Employing around 35,000 workers, the site has been compared to a small town, but trade unionists and politicians have branded it “a graveyard for workers,” alleging that deaths caused by unsafe conditions have been covered up.

Around 2,000 workers walked out on September 14 after 17 were injured in an accident on a shuttle bus taking workers from their accommodation to the site. 

That came after two people were killed when they fell from a roof they were working on.

Bosses ignored the demands of the workers, many of whom have not been paid for months, and instead called in the authorities, which attacked the workers with water cannon and tear gas.

The following day, 500 were detained after bosses handed a list of names to gendarmes, who kicked down doors in the accommodation blocks and dragged workers away in their pyjamas.

Speaking to the Star in Istanbul last week, Mr Karabulut explained that the “construction site is like a prison” as employees are forced to work by police and gendarmes.

Demanding the immediate release of Mr Karabulut and all construction workers, Ms Cerkezoglu said: “The real criminals are those who ignore workplace murders, unpaid salaries and bedbugs.

“The real criminals are those who close their ears to the demands of the workers as criminal complaints and those who arrest the workers and not the bosses.

“The main culprits are the competent authorities of the state, which are responsible for forcing the workers to work under the conditions of slavery.”

Ms Cerkezoglu insisted: “It is not a crime to defend the right to work and life of construction workers.”

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