Tuzla shipyards in dire straits as orders dry up.
Pre-crisis, the Tuzla shipyards were building 150 ships each year, but as global trade screeched to a halt the shipyard zone has been pulled into toward economic paralysis.
Last year, the shipyards, located at the southern tip of Istanbul, saw production plummet by 90 percent while employment declined 75 percent. The shipyards have received just one order for 2012. The government is rumored to be preparing a new stimulus package for the shipbuilding sector, but shipyard owners have lost hope and laid off workers are desperate. The stimulus rumors were fueled by Economy Minister Ali Babacan"s surprise visit to Tuzla last week.
Tuzla's name as a shipbuilding hub was heard more frequently starting from 2005. Between 2005 and 2008, global shipbuilding expanded 89 percent while the sector grew a record 360 percent in Turkey. In the same period, Turkey advanced from 23rd to eighth in production capacityfor countries, rising to be fifth in orders.
But high-budget orders have also started stalling production. Through subcontracting, workplace safety slipped down as a priority and fatal accidents snowballed. Between 1992 and 2009, some 131 workers died as the shipyards lost prestige in the public"s eye.
Insult to injury came from the global crisis. In the past 15 months, orders for 200 ships were canceled, amounting to a loss of $2 billion. The number of workers retreated to 8,000 from 38,000. Nearly all subcontracted workers were fired and 60 percent of regular staff was laid off.
Rivals advance through state support
In the meantime, China and South Korea"s industries were standing firmly on their feet with state support. China"s shipbuilding sector grew 47 percent on an annual basis last year.
Now half of the 46 shipyards at Tuzla are inoperative while the rest engage in repair and maintenance.
?Other countries took precautions that saved time for their respective industries,? said Metin Kalkavan, owner of the Sedef Shipyard and also president of the Chamber of Shipping. ?Meanwhile, we have been retreating from fronts that we were able to reach after 40 years. Before the crisis we were the world"s fifth in orders. Now we rank 10th. Next year will be much worse.? Deliveries scheduled for this year number at 120 and at 23 for next year provided there are no cancellations.
?A ship is built in nearly two years. As of today, there is only one order for 2012,? Kalkavan said. ?Normally we have the capacity to make 300 ships per year. But we barely receive new orders. Last year, global orders amounted to 33 million tons. Turkey was able to get less than 150,000 tons from this. This cannot go on.?
The shipyards have improved greatly on workplace safety, Kalkavan said. ?But what does workplace safety mean where there is no work??
Repair and maintenance activities should have been ?insurance for the crisis? for Tuzla shipyards, but due to infrastructure problems the opportunity was lost, according to Muhsin Divan, vice chairman of Desan Shipyard. ?Many entrepreneurs canceled orders due to the crisis,? he said. ?Those being built were left half-finished as financial means eroded. Tuzla has become a graveyard of half-built ships.?
If the shipyards had more floating docks, maintenance work could help ?turn the wheels,? Divan said. ?Unfortunately, only three or four yards have this opportunity, out of more than 40. The state should have encouraged repair and maintenance. Some 250 jobs are created for each 40,000- or 50,000-ton ship sent in for repairs.?
Aggrieved and jobless
Hakk? Demiral, a worker with a decade of experience, was laid off six months ago. Sitting at a coffee house across from a shared taxi stop at 7 a.m. in the morning over the ?çmeler Bridge, which opens to the shipyards, he told business daily Referans the area used to be full of workers in the mornings. ?Now only a handful are left,? he said.
Zülfü Erman, a service employee laid off last year, said: ?The employer said he cannot see the near future and gave all workers non-paid leave. We have not heard from him since and we couldn"t get any compensation.?
A former shipyard worker, speaking on condition of anonymity as he currently works at ?GDA?, the natural gas distribution company of Istanbul, said, ?Nothing will ever change at Tuzla.?
?I could not stand earning so little money in such unsafe conditions. I left the job,? he said.
Cafer Usta, a welder with 20 years of experience, is looking for work, having heard a shipyard is looking for five welders. He has been jobless for the past eight months. ?Two years ago, subcontractors begged us to work,? he said. ?We were able to choose which company we wanted to work for. Now we are trying to find mediators to make subcontractors give us a job. The pay is half and in many instances we are not able to get what was promised to us.?
Union membership hits bottom
Cem Dinç, president of the Limter-?? labor union, which was covered frequently by media during the controversy over fatal accidents, said ?Chinese-style, low-cost ship building? is to blame for Tuzla"s situation.
?After the deaths, union membership diminished,? Dinç said. ?Workers were wary of union membership not to lose their jobs. Tekel workers are being condemned to the 4C regulation and shipyard workers are condemned to death and hunger. Still, our hopes are with Tekel workers. Maybe their success will also have an impact here.?
The demise of the shipyards has also hit shops in Tuzla. ?Previously, we were selling 500 glasses of tea, 400 po?aça and 150 açma (Turkish pastries) per day. Now, we are selling less than 50 glasses of tea every day,? said Efendi Avc?, owner of the Akgül Counter across from the ?çmeler Train Station in Tuzla.
Avc? had also purchased a photocopier to serve those who wanted to apply for jobs at the shipyards and had to photocopy their identity cards. ?After we bought this, we photocopied nearly 150 identity cards every day. Now the figure is less than 100 per week,? he said.
Aram Ekin DURAN