Tue, Oct 29, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Workers face low pay, high risks and gangsters in Fukushima

Concern has been raised over the safety of workers exposed to the highly radioactive environment at the crippled nuclear power plant and of gangster-related groups skimming workers’ wages

By Antoni Slodkowski and Mari Saito  /  Reuters, IWAKI, Japan

“My suspicion is that they falsified the records to hide the fact that they had outsourced my employment,” Hayashi said.

ABL said Hayashi had worked with the firm, but declined to comment on his claims. TEPCO, Tokyo Energy & Systems, Suzushi Kogyo and RH Kogyo also declined to comment. Take One could not be reached for comment.

In September last year, Hayashi found another job with a subcontractor for Kajima, one of Japan’s largest construction companies. He did not want to go back home empty-handed and said he thought he might have been just unlucky with his first bad experience at the plant.

Instead, his problems continued. This time a broker who recruited several workers for the subcontractor insisted on access to his bank account and then took almost a third of the roughly US$160 Hayashi was supposed to be earning each day, Hayashi said.

The broker identified himself as a former member of a local gang from Hayashi’s native Nagano, he said.

Ryo Goshima, 23, said the same broker from Nagano placed him in a crew doing decontamination work and then skimmed almost half of what he had been promised. Goshima and Hayashi became friends in Fukushima when they wound up working for the same firm.

Goshima said he was fired in December after complaining about the skimming practice. Tech, the contractor that had employed him, said it had fired another employee who was found to have skimmed Goshima’s wages. Tech said Goshima left for personal reasons. The firm paid Goshima back wages, both sides say. The total payment was US$9,000, Goshima said.

Kajima spokesman Atsushi Fujino said the company was not in a position to comment on either of the cases since it did not have a contract with Hayashi or Goshima.

“We pay the companies who work for us and instruct those companies to pay the hazard allowance,” the Kajima spokesman said in a statement.

THE YAKUZA CONNECTION

The complexity of Fukushima contracts and the shortage of workers have played into the hands of the yakuza, Japan’s organized crime syndicates, which have run labor rackets for generations.

Nearly 50 gangs with 1,050 members operate in Fukushima Prefecture dominated by three major syndicates — Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai, police say.

Ministries, the companies involved in the decontamination and decommissioning work, and police have set up a task force to eradicate organized crime from the nuclear cleanup project. Police investigators say they cannot crack down on the gang members they track without receiving a complaint. They also rely on major contractors for information.

In a rare prosecution involving a yakuza executive, Yoshinori Arai, a boss in a gang affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai, was convicted of labor law violations. Arai admitted pocketing about US$60,000 over two years by skimming a third of wages paid to workers in the disaster zone. In March a judge gave him an eight-month suspended sentence because Arai said he had resigned from the gang and regretted his actions.

Arai was convicted of supplying workers to a site managed by Obayashi, one of Japan’s leading contractors, in Date, a town northwest of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Date was in the path of the most concentrated plume of radiation after the disaster.

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