ABE Shinzo, Prime Minister of Japan
TAMURA Norihisa, Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, Japan
SHIMOKOBE Kazuhiko, Chairman of the Board of Directors,
Tokyo Electric Power Co., Ltd. (TEPCO)
HIROSE Naomi, President, Tokyo Electric Power Co., Ltd. (TEPCO)
Labor conditions for the workers employed to clean up after the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant operated by TEPCO have worsened considerably since the time of the accident; compensation has decreased, the housing situation has worsened, and more. [...]
For example, the workers who had been performing a job at the time of the accident have seen their numbers cut in half while still expected to do the same job as before (Radio Broadcast News); moreover, workers who had been housed in hotels in Iwaki city and bused in and out of the disaster site were moved to prefab units or abandoned houses in a place nearer the disaster site called Hironomachi, and were expected to provide their own meals and their own hot water for bathing instead of having it provided for them, and even transportation to and from the disaster site became their responsibility (Radio Broadcast News). Hironomachi is located in an area that was designated an Emergency Evacuation Preparedness Zone until just the beginning of this year, and almost none of its former residents have returned; the radiation levels there are reportedly much higher than in Iwaki.
In terms of wages as well, even workers with seniority dating from before the accident are finding themselves being paid about two thousand yen less per day, along with the elimination of extra compensation for hazardous work conditions; there is testimony as well that at the lowest end of the spectrum, it is not uncommon for the daily wage to dip to just eight thousand yen (Report). Even more shocking, according to Radio Broadcast News, in response to a recent survey taken by TEPCO of its subcontracted workers, 5% reported earning less than 837 yen per hour (Tokyo minimum wage)! [...]Some workers report that during the surveys they are pointedly reminded by their bosses not to “write anything unusual” (Report), while others report having to fill out the surveys in front of their bosses or even being told what to write as they fill them out (Radio Broadcast News). So it is hard to believe that the results of this survey reflect the true working conditions of these employees, yet even it shows that 9% of them work at least five layers of subcontractors below the main contractor; 15% are “false” contract workers, that is, the company from which they receive wages and the company for which they are said to be working are in fact different; and another 15% report not being told how much radiation they are exposed to during a day (Radio Broadcast News).
Another important issue is the increased replacement of experienced workers familiar with nuclear technology by workers with no nuclear experience when the experienced workers reach their maximum allowable level of radiation exposure. As one worker put it during the roundtable, “In a high radiation zone, you are exposed to radiation whether you are undergoing training or not; in other words, there is no time for training. Rather than simply getting rid of experienced workers when they reach their maximum exposure levels, we should guarantee their employment during the five years it takes to reset their levels by using them to educate new workers and man conventional thermal power plants in order to preserve these human resources. That way, these workers could support operations until it was time they could return to the nuclear site.” I find it hard to contemplate returning workera who had reached their maximum radiation level back into a high radiation zone even after five years, but nevertheless, it would be good for such workers to be provided with proper medical examinations and the like during that time. [...]Precisely because workers are irradiating themselves in order to complete this job for us, we must closely safeguard their wellbeing. Whether this clean-up process continues slowly and steadily or another major accident occurs is an affair that concerns not just Japan but every living being on the planet. So it is the duty of each and every one of us to guarantee a stable work environment for those who perform this job for us, so that they can work proudly, knowing that they are doing their part to stop our environment from becoming even more polluted than it already is. Let us all listen in good faith to the words of the workers, and be vigilant in our calls to make TEPCO and the Japanese government take proper responsibility toward them, to guarantee that each and every one of them will see their proper wages restored and their work environments improved; let us never let up in these demands until they are met.
Faculty Lecturer, McGill University (Retired)
English translation: Brian Bergstrom
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