Probe reveals 45% of cleanup subcontractors violated labor laws

January 19, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Nearly half of the 242 companies involved in decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture were found to have violated labor laws in 219 instances, the labor ministry said Jan. 18.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said 45 percent of the companies fell into this category.

The findings show that many of the cleanup workers were thrust into inadequate work environments, fueling argument that was part of the reason slipshod decontamination work proliferated in many sites, as was reported by the media.

The labor standards inspection offices in Fukushima Prefecture reported 34 cases in which radiation levels were not measured prior to the start of cleanup work, despite a requirement under the Industrial Safety and Health Law to do so.

The offices investigated the conditions under which those workers toiled from April to December last year.

They found that in eight incidences, hazard pay, which comes from public funds, was not paid to workers.

There were 11 cases in which subcontractors did not specify wages and other details of working conditions to workers, a violation of the Labor Standards Law.

In many cases, workers were not paid their wages or did not have a health checkup.

The offices said they have instructed violators to take corrective actions and that they reported on the nonpayment of hazardous pay to workers to the Environment Ministry, which is overseeing decontamination operations.

Most of the offenders are smaller subcontractors that are commissioned by general contractors.

Among them are a number of small companies that scrambled to jump on the bandwagon after the government earmarked a huge budget for cleanup efforts.

A tendency to ignore the spirit of the law was particularly marked among subcontractors, experts said.

Meanwhile, the Environment Ministry stopped short of recognizing two-thirds of the 19 suspected cases of slipshod cleanup work around the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The ministry said in its report on Jan. 18 that it certified five instances as shoddy and disciplined the general contractors responsible.

But it said it found no fault with two cases.

For the rest, the ministry did not reach a conclusion on whether or not general contractors undertaking decontamination work did a substandard job. It cited vigorous denials over the allegations.

However, the ministry acknowledged it had been slow to react, despite being alerted by thousands of telephone calls and e-mails citing suspicious cleanup efforts.

“Since the ministry is not a law enforcement body, there are limitations to the way we look into cases,” Shinji Inoue, senior vice environment minister, said Jan. 18. “We acknowledge that our investigation, coupled with time constraints, has not been adequate.”

The ministry said it will continue to investigate if those tip-offs are well-founded and open a new investigation if additional information on suspected cases is reported.

The ministry began its investigation after The Asahi Shimbun reported on suspected dumping of potentially radioactive debris in the central government-commissioned work.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara, right, inspects decontamination operations in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, on Jan. 17. (Yasuo Kojima)

Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara, right, inspects decontamination operations in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, on Jan. 17. (Yasuo Kojima)

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  • Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara, right, inspects decontamination operations in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, on Jan. 17. (Yasuo Kojima)

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