Japanese Homeless Recruited for Fukushima Cleanup
Japanese private labor contractors are recruiting homeless people from around the nation to perform cleanup work around the Fukushima nuclear power plant destroyed by a March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and followed by a partial meltdown.
An investigative report by Reuters has revealed the practice of luring homeless Japanese to work, sometimes for less than minimum wage, on the massive cleanup effort at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant. Dubious operators scour train stations and other places frequented by the down-and-out, preying on desperate individuals willing to perform what is arguably one of the world’s most dangerous and unwanted jobs: “working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.”
The Reuters investigation also revealed that organized criminal syndicates, as well as some of the nation’s leading construction companies, are running dodgy labor schemes in which contracted day laborers are being swindled and exploited, sometimes by government-funded contractors.
“We’re an easy target for recruiters,” Shizuya Nishiyama, a 57-year-old homeless man from Sendai, told Reuters. “We turn up [at the train station] with all our bags, wheeling them around and we’re easy to spot. They say to us, ‘Are you looking for work? Are you hungry?’ And if we haven’t eaten, they offer to find us a job.”
The Reuters investigation accuses contractors such as Obayashi, one of Japan’s ‘Big Five’ construction firms, of hiring subcontractors who skim wages intended for cleanup workers for themselves:
Only a third of the money allocated for wages by Obayashi’s top contractor made it to the workers [recruited for the job]. The rest was skimmed by middlemen, police say. After deductions for food and lodging, that left workers with an hourly rate of about $6, just below the minimum wage equal to about $6.50 per hour in Fukushima… Some of the homeless men ended up in debt after fees for food in housing were deducted, police say.
Some of the construction company officials interviewed by Reuters insisted that there was no way for their firms to effectively monitor the hiring of every Fukushima cleanup worker.
“If you started looking at every single person, the project wouldn’t move forward,” said Yukio Suganuma, president of Aisogo Service, a company hired to clean up radioactive fallout in the town of Tamura.”
With the Japanese Environmental Ministry announcing last week that work on most of the contaminated sites will take as many as three years longer than expected, there are widespread concerns that the exploitation of Japan’s homeless population will continue or even worsen.