Japan's government has begun reviewing staffing policies at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after a survey found that nearly half of the laborers employed there may be working illegally, dispatched by staffing agencies but disguised as specialist contractors.
The only legal arrangement is where primary contractors or first-tier subcontractors hire workers directly. But if the government tightens oversight, a labor shortage could result and there could be significant delays in the schedule to decommission the plant's crippled reactors.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, conducted a survey of 4,000 workers from September to October 2012. Forty-seven percent of respondents said the company that gives them on-the-job orders is not the one that pays their wages.
The findings suggest that staffing agencies are providing laborers for work while disguising them as independent contractors. The arrangement is prohibited because it creates uncertainty over which entity is responsible for worker safety.
In a road map compiled in July 2012, the government and TEPCO jointly estimated that cleanup, decommissioning and other work at the site would require up to 12,000 workers every year. A shortage is not projected to arise at least until 2017.
The road map calculated that 23,300 individuals would be available for work over the long term. As of May, 24,300 people were registered as radiation workers, but 1,000 of them had already been exposed to high amounts of radiation--a factor that disbars laborers from further nuclear-related work within a certain period.
And in the light of the revelations of suspected illegal hiring practices, the industry ministry plans to review the road map by June because it understands that the true pool of eligible workers may be much smaller.
The 23,300 figure has been further called into question by revelations that many workers have in fact been exposed to higher radiation levels than is admitted in their official records.
TEPCO is reluctant to review the road map, saying it is difficult to judge the legality of hiring arrangements based only on the outcome of a survey.
And primary contractors and their immediate subcontractors are certain to oppose moves to end the hiring of agency labor because it would cause their personnel costs to snowball.
If regulations are strengthened significantly, the companies would likely be unable to recruit sufficient workers and decommissioning of the reactors would slow.
But if authorities make only a half-hearted response, the government-led decommissioning project would continue to be supported by dubious labor practices.
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