Turkish Minister of Labor and Social Security Faruk Celik said on Friday that occupational health and safety in Turkey remains deficient, despite many efforts to prevent workplace accidents. As millions of workers celebrated Labor and Solidarity Day on May 1, job safety and workers health remains a concern in Turkey.

Speaking at a press conference in Istanbul for the upcoming seventh International Conference on Occupational Safety and Health, Celik said these kinds of conferences are necessary to share experience and good practices to deal with hazards and risks in working life.

Celik, saying that the capability to provide employees with a safe and healthy working environment is an indicator to socioeconomic development level of a country, added that countries around the world are struggling to minimize the number of workplace accidents.

"According to numbers from the International Labor Organization (ILO), there are 3 billion workers around the world. Every day 6,000 workers die, meaning every minute four workers die, due to occupational accidents or diseases. On an annual basis, 360,000 people die from workplace accidents, and 1,950 thousand people die from illnesses linked to their work."

Celik said that although progress has been made in Turkey over the past decade with regard to occupational health and safety, problems remain. "While fatal work accidents claimed 17 out of 100,000 workers in 2002, this figure decreased to six out of 100,000 during the last ten years." The Ministry of Labor said both workers and employers have received work-safety education to minimize accidents. 

Although the base number of reported injuries has remained roughly flat, the injury rate per 1,000 workers in Turkey has decreased from about 13.7 in 2003 to 6.27 in 2012, a decrease of 54 percent.

However, over 270 people died in work-related accidents in the first three months of 2014, according to a report released in April by the Istanbul Workers' Health and Job Safety Assembly. The report said that 112 died in work-related accidents in March, while 77 died in February and 87 died in January.  Most work-related deaths occur in the construction, mining, trade and agriculture sectors, according to the report.

Twenty-five construction workers died in the first three months of the year; 14 deaths were the result of falls.

Unemployment and a low minimum wage is another major problem cited by the trade unions in Turkey. Unemployment was 10.1 percent in January this year, with 2.8 million people out of work, according to Turkish Statistical Institute, TurkStat.

"Millions of workers work as minimum-waged laborers, making 846 TL [US$400] per month, despite the fact that the determined hunger limit is above 1,200 TL per month," President of Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK), Kani Beko said. “Due to a lack of job security and difficulties with union-forming, workplace accidents in Turkey are almost murder."

A recent study by the TURK-IS union claims that the hunger limit – an officially defined amount based on adequate nutrition – for a four-member family has risen to 1,167 TL based on April 2013 figures. The poverty line is set at 3,802 TL per month.

Mahmut Arslan, president of the Confederation of Turkish Real Trade Unions, noted more than one million subcontracted workers in public institutions were being excluded from the right to join unions or in collective labor agreements, something which deepens existing problem with unions.

Stressing the increase in subcontracting and unemployment as key problems for the Turkish labor sector, Ergun Atalay, president of the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions, told the Anadolu Agency that the phenomenon of long-term non-pay rolled workers in Turkey continued, adding such workers are not legally able to work more than six months in a year, according to legislation. "Some 10 per cent or 12,000 Turkish laborers cannot join trade unions, due to legal difficulties,” Arslan said.

According to International Labor Organization (ILO) figures, Turkey ranks first in Europe and third in the world for fatal work accidents. The ILO says 18 out of 100,000 insured laborers die every year in work accidents, seven times greater than the EU average of 2.5.