Dar es Salaam. Turkish workers employed by the Turkish construction company Yapı Merkezi in the Tanzania Standard Gauge Railway project have been on strike since August 5, demanding payment of their unpaid wages for the past seven months.
On Friday, when the strike entered its seventh day, the Yapı Merkezi workers stated, “We will continue our strike until our voices are heard and until we receive our wages. We do not do charity, we want what we deserve.”
Ömer Tanrıverdi, one of the Yapı Merkezi striking workers, told Bianet, a Turkish press agency based in Beyoğlu, Istanbul, that he has been working on the project for 10 months and hasn’t received his salary since February.
“The company has put us in a difficult situation,” Tanrıverdi recounted. “When financial difficulties increased, they deducted US$600 from friends who wanted to leave, claiming it was for the plane ticket. Lately, as more people quit their jobs, they raised this deduction to US$3,000, and now it’s up to US$4,000. People are practically held captive here.”
Tanrıverdi told Bianet that Yapı Merkezi has been facing economic difficulties for the past three years, resulting in delayed payments.
“I’ve been working at this company since 2016,” he continued. “We waited for seven months out of a sense of loyalty, but enough is enough. We are in a very difficult situation. We can’t support our families. We want our wages for four months: February, March, April, and May. We also demand a promise of regular payments for the future.”
Yapi Merkezi told Turkish media that it was unaware of the strike among its workers, declining to answer other related questions.
In January this year, Yapı Merkezi, a Türkiye-based construction company, launched the construction of the 4th phase of the SGR project, the Tabora –Isaka section, whose construction is supposed to be completed in 42 months from January 2023.
The 4th phase from Tabora to Isaka comes after the first, second, and third phases of the Dar Salaam-Mwanza Railway in Tanzania. Yapı Merkezi undertook to build all the pieces of construction of three stations between the cities of Tabora and Isaka.
According to the MoU, the company is also responsible for constructing a maintenance workshop, depot area, an administrative building, a Railway Institute, and a 165-km-long single-track railway with sidetracks, signalling, telecommunications and electrification work.
Once completed, the SGR will be the longest railway line constructed by a Turkish contractor and the fastest in East Africa.
Dev Yapı-İş, a union affiliated with the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey, has members among the striking Turkish workers in Tanzania, with its General President Özgür Karabulut telling Bianet that the union is supporting the workers.
Karabulut noted that there have also been payment delays for the Tanzanian workers on the project.
“We have been in contact with the local workers’ union,” Karabulut said. The African Trade Union Confederation has also engaged in dialogue with the Tanzanian government to resolve the issue.”
Karabulut pointed out that the company has been consistently delaying payments since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but this is the longest delay.
“Around 600 workers couldn’t bear the situation and left their jobs by signing conciliation agreements,” he said. “The company has not fulfilled its promise to compensate these workers when due. Starting Tuesday, we will protest for these colleagues in front of the company’s headquarters.”