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465 suspected of working illegally at Fukushima nuke plant in 2015

A total of 465 workers at the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant may have been employed under "disguised contracts," according to the results of a 2015 Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) questionnaire.

Under a "disguised contract," people are given work without official employment or are made to work under the instruction of parties other than those who place the original orders, obscuring the party responsible for their safety. The revelation comes after the Mainichi Shimbun reported that seven foreign nationals worked at the plant in 2014 under suspected illegal contracts. TEPCO had subsequently concluded that it had identified no problems over the issue based on its questionnaires.

The utility recognized that 118 of the 465 workers -- whose employers TEPCO says it could identify and whom it checked with by way of the original contractors -- were "all in appropriate employment statuses."

In response to the TEPCO announcement, however, a former Japanese worker at the plant testified to the Mainichi that he "couldn't write about the truth" in those surveys. Furthermore, at least one subcontractor related to work at the plant has admitted to the existence of disguised contract work.

The Employment Security Act and other regulations ban "disguised contract work" in which workers receive instructions from companies other than those they have employment or business contracts with as it obscures the party responsible for safety management. The seven foreign nationals -- mostly Japanese-Brazilians -- who worked at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in 2014 received work instructions from a subcontractor, but they were in fact sole proprietors with business contracts.

TEPCO started handing out surveys in fiscal 2011 to all non-regular workers engaged in the decommissioning of reactors at the plant in a bid to improve their work environment. The utility has released the results of the past surveys on its website.

A questionnaire conducted between August and October last year, whose results were recently released, received responses from 86.4 percent of all workers at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, or 6,527 individuals, most of whom are believed to be Japanese. Among them, 465 workers (14.2 percent) of 3,268 workers (excluding supervisors and managers) answered that "the company that gives me work instructions and the one that pays me are different." Of them, TEPCO asked the original contractors to conduct a survey on 118 workers and concluded that their employment statuses were appropriate based on their reports.

A former male Japanese worker for a second-tier subcontractor that undertook work to build storage tanks for radiation contaminated water at the plant between 2014 and 2015 revealed to the Mainichi that when he responded to a TEPCO survey, he enclosed his answer sheet in an envelope and handed it over to a first-tier subcontractor without sealing it. The answer sheets submitted by workers were ultimately collected by the original contractor before being submitted to TEPCO.

"Although the surveys were anonymous, they could tell who wrote the answers by the handwriting. I couldn't write about working under harsh conditions, in which many people collapsed due to heatstroke. The way the surveys are conducted now wouldn't lead to uncovering the realities at the job sites," he said.

The president of a construction company in Fukushima Prefecture that undertakes decommissioning work at the Fukushima No. 1 plant told the Mainichi in February that the company was making workers dispatched by another firm work at the plant by disguising them as its own regular employees. "I'm aware it constitutes disguised contract work, which is illegal. But it's a common practice."

Meanwhile, TEPCO's public relations section, when asked whether its questionnaires can uncover the realities of work conditions for those engaged in decommissioning work at the plant, said, "We see no problems with them."

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