Abstract

This article focuses on how workplace accidents, a chronic problem in Turkey, are justified by the employers. I conducted my fieldwork in İstanbul’s Tuzla shipyards, where approximately 190 workers have died in work accidents since 1992. The Tuzla shipyards are both a symbol of negative working conditions and chronic work accidents in Turkey, and a site where the definitions, causes, and effects of work accidents are problematized, examined, and contested. What I observed during my fieldwork in the Tuzla shipyards was the crystallization of the political contestation between the prioritization of economic growth versus that of human life. In this article I discuss this ongoing discursive and political clash. Drawing on my visit to the Turkish Shipbuilders’ Business Association (GİSBİR), my conversation with GİSBİR’s responsible person for publications and press, and statements of GİSBİR representatives in the media I demonstrate that employers in Tuzla attempt to justify work accidents as a normal and inevitable phenomenon in this particular stage of development and in the race for economic growth with other developed or developing nations. Employers consider work accidents a necessary sacrifice to secure rapid economic growth which in turn supposed to guarantee social justice, better working conditions and workers’ rights in the future. I argue that this paradoxical approach that requires workers’ sacrifices in terms of work safety today to make work safety a guarantee in the future, results indeed in the indefinite deferral of workers’ rights to live and work in healthy environments.

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