Contractors were tipped off about “surprise” inspections of decontamination work around the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, giving them time to order workers to lie about hazard pay they weren’t receiving, The Asahi Shimbun learned.
One company official warned that failure to mislead the inspectors could cause every worker to lose financially.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has inspected about 110 companies and confirmed that 11 withheld hazard pay from their workers. The ministry’s inquiries came after The Asahi Shimbun reported on Nov. 5 that contractors in the radioactive cleanup work were apparently pocketing the taxpayer-funded daily hazard allowance of up to 10,000 yen ($106).
The number of confirmed nonpayment cases could increase.
The labor ministry plans to question contractors and other parties connected to the suspected cover-ups, which may constitute a violation of the Labor Standards Law or "coercion" as defined in the Penal Code.
The ministry also plans to review the inspection methods to prevent further information leaks.
"It would be a problem if there was a cover-up," said an official with the ministry’s Labor Standards Bureau. "We will be conducting full and true snap inspections in the future."
The Asahi Shimbun obtained a document that Maeda Corp., a general contractor that won a contract for cleanup work in Naraha in Fukushima Prefecture, distributed to its subcontractors on or around Nov. 12. It states clearly that inspectors of the Tomioka Labor Standards Inspection Office would visit on Nov. 15 and directly ask workers if they were receiving the hazard pay.
The document mentioned “eight lunchboxes,” an apparent reference to the eight inspectors expected.
On Nov. 14, officials of different subcontractors were summoned to a Maeda conference room on the work site. They were told to instruct the cleanup workers to tell the inspectors that they were receiving the special allowances, an official with one of the subcontractors said.
The subcontractors were also told which company would come under heavy scrutiny, the official added.
The information in the document was accurate. Eight inspectors arrived at the decontamination work site around 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 15.
All 20 or so workers said they were receiving the hazard pay.
One worker told The Asahi Shimbun that a subcontractor instructed him to tell the labor standards inspectors that he was receiving the allowances, although he was not.
At least one other worker said he had a similar experience.
Tatsuo Ito, director of the Tomioka Labor Standards Inspection Office, said he was the one who told Maeda about the planned inspection.
"I informed Maeda officials verbally about a week in advance to have them prepare the necessary documents," Ito said. "It was inappropriate for them to learn about our intention to interview the workers directly."
A Maeda representative acknowledged the company created the document but denied Maeda employees ordered a cover-up.
Information also leaked on a supposedly "surprise" inspection by the Koriyama Labor Standards Inspection Office in Tamura on Dec. 6.
"The leak probably occurred on the day of the inspection, after we had arrived at the work site," said a representative of the Koriyama Labor Standards Inspection Office.
A worker recorded the words of an official of one subcontractor after he summoned about 30 workers just before the inspection began. The official offered specific advice on how the workers should misinform the inspectors.
"You workers will likely be interviewed on an individual basis," the official was recorded as saying. "I'd be pleased if you told (the inspectors) the full amount, not the actual amount you are receiving. Your take-home pay does not include fees for room and board. The correct answer is 15,700 yen, which is the minimum wage plus the allowances."
The official also implied that all jobs would be lost if the illegal siphoning-off practice came to light.
"Each of you may have your own questions, but I hope you will behave in consideration of what could happen to other people," the official said.
The subcontractor in question said the matter is "under review."
Subcontractors were earlier found to have been cutting corners in the decontamination project by dumping radioactive debris back into the environment.
(This article was written by Miki Aoki and Tamiyuki Kihara.)
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Please check related stories at (http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201302090067) and (http://ajw.asahi.com/tag/CROOKED%20CLEANUP).
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