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Nuclear cleanup workers being recruited from society's lowest rungs

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On March 17, a week after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami that struck the Tohoku region, a notice was posted at a worker recruitment center in Airin, the rundown neighborhood of Osaka's Nishinari Ward where thousands of impoverished day laborers congregate in search of construction and other blue-collar jobs.

As reported in Asahi Geino (May 26), the ad read, "Wanted: drivers for 10-ton trucks in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture. Pay: 12,000/day."

But two workers who signed up for the jobs instead found themselves dispatched to work at the damaged nuclear complex in Fukushima Prefecture.

The men first met up with a labor subcontractor in Gifu Prefecture, which ordered them to Fukushima, where they were requested to drive water tankers as part of the effort to cool down the damaged reactors Nos. 5 and 6, for twice the initially offered remuneration. The recruitment center in Osaka first learned of the bait-and-switch when one of the two men telephoned while on route.

"Nothing new about that sort of thing," shrugs a job broker in Osaka. "When the Tsuruga nuclear plant was built in Fukui Prefecture, those who signed up were just told they'd be doing 'construction work' and they'd be paid 20,000 yen per day. Since the money was good, they understood there was probably some risk involved."

A source tells Asahi Geino the current daily remuneration for laborers is three times that of regular day jobs if within the grounds of the reactor complex, and 1.5 times higher if within the wider area now restricted due to high radioactivity.

While safety measures are in place to keep workers' daily exposure to radiation within safe levels, claims for compensation due to sickness from overexposure are unlikely to be paid out.

"When a 29-year-old worker at the Hamaoka plant died of leukemia, his death was recognized in 1994 as being a result of occupational hazards. But when the matter was taken to court, it was learned that the man had not been maintaining his own records of working hours on site," says photojournalist Kenji Higuchi, who describes how the rules are bent. "The subcontractor he worked for was found to have altered the records of his exposure periods after he died. It also appears part of his working times were entered in a different worker's passbook."

According to Weekly Playboy (May 30), brokers were also recruiting nuclear laborers in places other than Nishinari.

"A homeless guy I know in Nagoya was also recruited to work at the reactor," says an elderly worker. "I heard the pay was 50,000 per day, for four hours of work -- same as what they were offering in Nishinari. The guy's already over 70, but I heard the recruiter say, 'The older the better' and 'It suits us even better if (a worker) is homeless.'"

For elderly workers seeking jobs at the recruitment center, the pickings these days have been slim.

"Up to last year, I could take my pick of posted job offerings," said a man in his 70s. "But from this year, if there were any jobs at all, I took them, whatever they were. In the 40 years I've been working here, the economy has never been so bad as right now."

Weekly Playboy's reporter confirmed the postings at the center the day he visited offered only two non-specialized job positions: construction work for 10,000 per day, or 4,869 yen per day as a security guard.

On May 14, the media reported the death of a man in his 60s who'd been working at the No. 4 reactor at the Fukushima nuclear power complex. The cause of death was determined to be heart failure, probably brought on by his working successive 12-hour shifts.

In Shukan Asahi (May 27), a source who knew the deceased tells the magazine that it's fairly common to see men in their 60s laboring at such jobs. "Previously, 55 had been the cutoff age, but with the accident they'll take older workers."

Perhaps reflecting the sense of desperation over the nuclear crisis, working conditions for the men inside the plant appear to be brutal.

"They don't announce it, but on site, workers are collapsing almost daily due to bone fractures or heatstroke," the source tells Shukan Asahi. "It's being hushed up. Spreading the word will just make the subcontractor look bad to Tokyo Electric Power, so nobody says anything. Workers are saying to themselves, 'On-the-job injuries are a matter of self-responsibility.'"

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

36 Comments
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tepco employees should be doing this but of course its beneath them...

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You don't want a bunch of uneducated or old people working in a nuke plant! You want people who are sharp and alert. Where is the regulation?!!!

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Looks like the Samurai Heroes are being supplemented by expendable warriors!!

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The "good" thing is the workers are being paid well. 50,000 yen for four hours work?! Wow.

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Japan you gota love this place. And Japan calls itself a modern developed nation, some things never change.

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"Looks like the Samurai Heroes are being supplemented by expendable warriors!!"

I am sure this has always been the case. Samurai get the credit, and some poor sap from the rice fields gets to do all the fighting and dying. Some things never change.

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Agree with Tkoind2.

Look into eras that were the heydays of the Samurai's(Kamakura, Muromachi), Edo-era they were on the decline and mostly worked as goverment officials or other official positions.

Payment seems way to high though(as reported) and given the source .....

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Good old fashioned exploitation, sad

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Sloppy reporting, maybe but try and read a copy of Kenji Higuchi's original book with his photographs. He names the sub-contractors for work for the power utilities and the recruiting companies, and all the people interviewed. It formed the basis for Nicolas Rohl's documentary Nuclear Ginza, showing them recruiting in Osaka.

The information is out there, in black and white, you just have to look a little deeper...

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wanderlust: thanks for the "nuclear ginza" info. It was an interesting documentary. Rather scary but some people will tell us that is scaremongering tactics and everything in fine if they say so. Skepticism is forbidden.

sengoku38: the uneducated are not behind the command consoles but with the shovels and buckets.

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I can never call anyone sacrificing his life for the rest of the people as the "lowest rung"; they are hero's and should be addressed as such at all times. All those with physics and construction knowledge need to stay healthy and move forward with containment procedures. This is a time where everybody has to be strong, both mentally and physically !

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Who is the money grabbing greedy fat cat running this? Yakuza most likely, the government needs to investigate this.

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They might be the lowest rungs but this risky work gives them a chance to advance to hero status. Many brave men and women in militaries around the world come from similar backgrounds.

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I don't think having subcontractors per se is much of an issue - 100% of Japanese companies use subcontractors - but deceptively hiring desperate people to work in very dangerous conditions is just wrong.

Hire people, but inform them of what they will be doing, train them to do it safely, and give them the equipment they need to protect themselves. This is not a hard concept.

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Hire people, but inform them of what they will be doing, train them to do it safely, and give them the equipment they need to protect themselves. This is not a hard concept.

You gotta be dreaming if you ever think some subcontractor wud do that! Also gives the top dog denieability.

The purposes of subcontractors is so they can pilfer more of our taxes(applies to ALL contruction type work) and avoid responsibility

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“When the Suruga nuclear plant was built in Fukui Prefecture, ..."

It is Tsuruga, not Suruga. That's the name of a bank.

Moderator: That typo has been corrected, thank you.

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You gotta be dreaming if you ever think some subcontractor wud do that! Also gives the top dog denieability.

The subcontractors in my office (and we have a ton) are the same as regular employees - they follow the same safety guidelines as "real" employees. They just get their paycheck from another company.

Of course it's surely not the same everywhere, but I suspect most places are similar...

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From what I've seen, having subcontracted employees allows the employer to get out of paying benefits (such as extended health care.) And health care and liability are the most important perks when it comes to the nuclear industry.

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LOL. So this means these clean-up crews and the original workers at the nuke plants are of the same caliber... How ironic.

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Japan is a country with an ageing population and they should be using that resource wisely.

As a 60-year old myself, I can take risks that I wouldn't allow my younger staff - with their lives ahead and children to bear and raise, to take. It's active people of my age who should be doing this work.

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i agree with dhaen. we call it "triage".

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AdamB, this kind of exploitation goes on everywhere. Nice try, though.

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This is honto ni unbeliveable, do the Japanese have no regulation for this?

In the EU it is afair forbidden to use Tempstuff for this kind of Work!

Who gave this Companys (Temp and Tepco)the right to use Tempstuff for work in a "dangerous environment"?

Do the People behind the Ventiles and Regulator have been also Tempstuff?

What kind of a Banana Country is Japan?

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In the EU it is afair forbidden to use Tempstuff for this kind of Work!

It is not. And they do use uneducated temp staff there as well to do the dirty cleaning, e.g. when fuel rods are changed. It's unbelievable, yes, but by far not limited to Japan.

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LOL. So this means these clean-up crews and the original workers at the nuke plants are of the same caliber.

Well said USNinJapan2. These Kansai-based working-class battlers are doing a better job - working harder and likely have way more intelligence - than the uniformed TEPCO jerk-offs. Heck - let these battlers stay on and run the whole damn Co. after the crisis is over - and consign the permanent TEPCO wemployees to a residence in parks! LOL

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From what I've seen, having subcontracted employees allows the employer to get out of paying benefits (such as extended health care.)

Subcontracted doesn't mean temp staff. It mostly means staff that are seconded from another company. They would have benefits with their parent company. That's how it works in my office, at least.

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True Bushido......send in the ashigaru first !!At least they pay them well this time.

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Being an anti-Lib -I am generally against eugenics.

-I have never seen a human being sold into death for ¥50,000 before. We are entering into an age of civilization that I have not seen before in my lifetime. People that are giving excuses for this practice should not be encouraged.

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Smorkian, et al,

In this case, subcontractors are the ppl contracting w/ the co. (Tepco and other nuke cos) to provide labor. However the actual laborers are not employees of the subcon co. They are paid by the day. That means they can be let go at any time. Sometimes there are wk and longer contracts, but gnrly by the day. NO benefits, as they are not regular members of the company. Further this article doesn't mention, there are also sub-sub and sub-sub-sub contractors. Basically further farming out accountability and responsibility. As the article said, the guy got sick and got dumped. This is how nuclear cos in Jpn have worked for a long time, nothing to do with this accident. "Real" employees of TEPCO/ others are only 10% 20% of the total workers.

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throw away employees... brilliant! They will do the dangerous work, potentially be exposed to lots of radiation, and when the work is done, be laid off, and then fade away, presumably to die a horrible death.

Go TEPCO!

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In this case, subcontractors are the ppl contracting w/ the co. (Tepco and other nuke cos) to provide labor. However the actual laborers are not employees of the subcon co. They are paid by the day. That means they can be let go at any time.

Yes, I know - in this case the workers are temp workers, not what would normally think of as a subcontractor. That's what I was trying to say.

And as I said before, it's absolutely awful that desperate temp workers would be employed in this situation, especially deceitfully like seems to be the case.

"Real" employees of TEPCO/ others are only 10% 20% of the total workers.

Not unusual in many, many companies in Japan - but temp =/= subcontracted. Essential industries like a utility should have a much higher percentage of bona fide workers than a mainstream company, though.

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Spucky

This is honto ni unbeliveable, do the Japanese have no regulation for this?

There probably is; but this is Japan, so it will be flouted with impunity.

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I don't even know if you can call them temp workers, as temps have an agency and contracts. These guys really line up at a work office every morning to get whatever (usually construction related but also nuke) jobs there are. The different construction co's and subcontractors show up with a list of jobs/ required skills/strength and take whoevers 1st in line that fits the bill. Maybe you know all that.

This is basically the way it's been since the nuclear plants started here, not just for this disaster. Maybe you know that too.

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The different construction co's and subcontractors show up with a list of jobs/ required skills/strength and take whoevers 1st in line that fits the bill. Maybe you know all that.

I think you are being snarky towards me, but I'll ignore that.

Isn't this the way the construction industry in general works in Japan, not just related to the plants? Anyway it sucks, everybody should be able to get stable employment and benefits should they want the stable employment. At a nuke plant it should be required that all are a permanent employee of someone, even if it it's a subcontracted company. More stability & accountability for the site, better conditions for the workers.

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PAUL JOBIN wrote a lengthy article about "Dying for TEPCO? Fukushima’s Nuclear Contract Workers".

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Homer you've just won the job of industrial chimney sweep for a day.

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