A dinner of boiled vegetables and 3.3 square meters of floor space for sleeping, those are the harsh conditions awaiting laborers who undertake government-mandated decontamination work necessitated by the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric’s Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima Prefecture. In some cases workers are basically laboring for free when taxpayer-funded danger pay is excluded from their pay packets.
General contractors at the top of the pay pyramid and farthest from the dangers of the worksite reap the greatest benefits. They are the ones who directly contract with the government to take on the decontamination work. Once contracted, these firms subcontract work out to other companies, who in turn do the same. Onsite workers are employed by companies that are three or four steps removed from the source of funds. After each firm has taken its cut, not much money is left for paying workers. In the chart below, the national government, which is the source of the funds, is highlighted in blue. It is followed by the general contractor, and then three subcontractors. Highlighted in orange at the bottom of the food chain are the workers taking all the health risks associated with the cleanup.
“I wasn’t treated like a human being,” said a 59-year-old man from Aomori Prefecture who engaged in decontamination work in Tamura City for about two months from September of last year. He and three other workers were made to sleep in a tiny 13-square meter bungalow. He was also shocked when served his first dinner. “The only side dishes to go along with a bowl of rice were boiled eggplant, bean sprouts and bell peppers.” When he and other workers complained to the company, they were given “a couple of slices of packaged ham.”
His work consisted of cutting grass on steep slopes within 20 kilometers of the accident site. Of course there were no shops or restaurants operating nearby. For lunch, the company provided them with simple balls of rice. When questioned, the lady who made the meals said she was instructed by the company to use only 100 yen’s worth of ingredients (about US$1) for breakfast and 200 yen’s worth for dinner per serving.
“It was physically-demanding work, yet they treated us terribly,” the man said angrily.
In February, a 54-year-old worker collapsed and died of a heart attack while laboring in Kawauchi Village, Fukushima.
An acquaintance who introduced the man to the job told him, “You’ll be paid 11,000 yen (US$112) a day to cut roadside weeds. Accommodation and two meals a day are included.” Though that is the actual amount he received, workers are supposed to receive an additional 10,000 yen-a-day in danger pay for cleanup work contracted by the national government. If the amount of that danger pay is subtracted from the wage, it means the company itself was only paying the worker 1,000 yen (about US$10) a day. That works out to be less than one-fifth the prefecture’s minimum wage of 5,500 yen.
After he had been working for a month, the company asked the man to sign a “contract” in which the daily wage section had been left blank. He said he had seen a coworker’s contract which listed the gross wage to be paid as 15,700 yen and a deduction of 4,700 yen for food and lodging, resulting in net pay of 11,000 yen. When the subcontractor was contacted, it replied, “We added the extra government-mandated 10,000 yen danger benefit to the gross pay, however, since there is no agreement regarding deductions, we subtracted food and lodging expenses.”
The system is set up in such a way that multiple subcontractors are involved. A person from one subcontractor attested, “By the time funds reach us the amount needed to pay the danger benefit is no longer there.” The contractor said he had passed on the whole job to a company run by an acquaintance. He lamented, “If something is not shaved off the wages paid to the workers no profit can be made. In the end, only the general contractor is making a buck.”
Photo: Team Nihonmatsu