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

A police official with knowledge of the investigation said Arai’s case was just “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of organized crime involvement in the cleanup.

A spokesman for Obayashi said the company “did not notice” that one of its subcontractors was getting workers from a gangster.

“In contracts with our subcontractors we have clauses on not cooperating with organized crime,” the spokesman said, adding that the company was working with the police and its subcontractors to ensure this sort of violation does not happen again.

In April, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare sanctioned three companies for illegally dispatching workers to Fukushima. One of those, a Nagasaki-based company called Yamato Engineering, sent 510 workers to lay pipe at the nuclear plant in violation of labor laws banning brokers. All three companies were ordered by labor regulators to improve business practices, records show.

In 2009, Yamato Engineering was banned from public works projects because of a police determination that it was “effectively under the control of organized crime,” according to a public notice by the Nagasaki-branch of the land and transport ministry. Yamato Engineering had no immediate comment.

Goshima said he himself had been working for the local chapter of Yamaguchi-gumi since the age of 14, extorting money and collecting debts. He quit at age 20 after spending some time in jail. He had to borrow money from a loan shark to pay off his gang, which demanded about US$2,000 a month for several months to let him go.

“My parents didn’t want any problems from the gang, so they told me to leave and never return,” Goshima said.

He went to Fukushima looking for a well-paying job to pay down the debt — and ended up working for a yakuza member from his home district.

DECONTAMINATION WORK

In towns and villages around the Dai-ichi plant in Fukushima, thousands of workers wielding industrial hoses, operating mechanical diggers and wearing dosimeters to measure radiation have been deployed to scrub houses and roads, dig up topsoil and strip trees of leaves in an effort to reduce background radiation so that refugees can return home.

Hundreds of small companies have been given contracts for this decontamination work. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed in the first half of the year had broken labor regulations, a labor ministry report in July said. The ministry’s Fukushima office had received 567 complaints related to working conditions in the decontamination effort in the year to March. It issued 10 warnings. No firm was penalized.

One of the firms that has faced complaints is Denko Keibi, which before the disaster used to supply security guards for construction sites.

Denko Keibi managed 35 workers in Tamura, a village near the plant. At an arbitration session in May that Reuters attended, the workers complained they had been packed five to a room in small cabins. Dinner was typically a bowl of rice and half a pepper or a sardine, they said. When a driver transporting workers flipped their van on an icy road in December last year, supervisors ordered workers to take off their uniforms and scatter to distant hospitals, the workers said. Denko Keibi had no insurance for workplace accidents and wanted to avoid reporting the crash, they said.

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