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Workplace safety to have own law

İSTANBUL - After being shaken by the increasing number of work-related deaths in Tuzla shipyards near Istanbul and the deaths from lung disease among textile workers, the authorities are finally working to create a separate law to regulate health and safety in the workplace.

by Şafak Timur
Three labor union confederations believe it is better to handle the issue in a separate law as opposed to the current situation where health and safety issues are covered as part of the labor law.

However, the Labor Confederation, or Hak-İş, the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions, or Türk- İş, and the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions, or DİSK, still have certain reservations about the draft law. The Labor Ministry was presented with the opinions of all relevant parties on the draft and is expected to send it to Parliament soon.

Against the essence
The strongest criticism against the new draft came from DİSK. "The Labor Ministry tends to leave its public responsibility to the private sector. The new law should keep its distance from the mentality that regards work health and safety issues as a new area for profit," said Perihan Sarı from DİSK.

Under the new draft law’s Article 11, an employer should create a health and safety unit within the workplace. The employer would also be given the right to buy work safety services from external providers. The draft law also states that employing an external service will not be regarded as a sub-contract. However Sarı said the ministry should stay away from transferring this service to a profit seeking company.

"Employers regard work health and safety issues as a cost element and a secondary expense unit. In economic crisis periods, the first issue that can be sacrificed is health and safety. Consequently, it is an issue [for employers] that decreases profitability," Sarı said, adding that transferring the service to outside companies would be in conflict with the essence of the law.

Creating safety unit
Another issue in the draft law that has drawn criticisms from the confederations is the necessary number of workers in a workplace to found a board of work health and safety, or to hire a health and safety representative.

In the draft law, the employer will be expected to found a board for workplaces with more than 50 people and where the work takes more than three months to complete.

Özcan Karabulut, a work safety expert of Türk-İş, said they did not want the limit of 50 workers in place. "We especially want health units to be compulsory for those small- and medium-size enterprises, or SMEs É Those companies can also have a common health and safety unit. This should be compulsory, as 70 percent of work-related accidents occur in those places rather than at larger companies," Karabulut said.

The draft law also prescribes that 10 is the minimum number of workers for a work place to have a work safety and health representative. "Those work places hiring less than 10 workers can ignore some responsibilities," Sarı said.

Organized industrial areas should have common health units, Sarı said, but added that these units should consist of independent physicians who were not hired by the employers. Professional organizations, the Turkish Chamber of Physicians, or TTB, and the Turkish Union of Engineers’ and Architects’ Chambers, or TMMOB, should be involved in this issue, she added.

On the other hand, Hak İş criticized a bureaucratic remedy that the draft offers for work safety. "When employees face a serious, imminent and unavoidable threat, they apply to work health and safety boards for the detection of the threat and demand the necessary measures be taken. The board meets on the same day and assesses the situation. The written decision of the board is sent to the employer or the employee," the draft states.

This article is contrary to logic and reality, Hak İş said, by saying that the threat was "serious, imminent and unavoidable, but the solution is bureaucratic." The confederation instead is calling for the article to be rewritten in the face of a serious threat, that when faced with a serious situation, employees will leave the workplace and inform the board.

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