Injured Fukushima cleanup worker sues contractor in place of bankrupt former employer
A 49-year-old man injured while decontaminating the area around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant decided to file a lawsuit in Yokohama against a construction company in Ehime Prefecture that contracted the Tokyo-based company which hired him, as his original employer went bankrupt.
In an attempt to meet the demand for decontamination workers, many small companies joined recovery efforts in Fukushima Prefecture, only to withdraw after a short time, causing trouble for those who were injured on the job. The man filing the lawsuit is one such case complicated by the situation as he was forced to file his lawsuit not against the company that hired him, but the one that had contracted that company.
The man is requesting compensation for lost earnings and mental suffering after an accident in December 2014, when part of an iron truck bed fell and broke his right foot while he was working on decontamination efforts in the town of Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, according to his legal representative.
After the accident occurred, the secondary company which had hired him filed an application for worker's injury compensation to a local labor standards inspection office, which falsely claimed that the accident happened in a warehouse far from the actual site of the incident. The Tomioka Labor Standards Inspection Office in Fukushima Prefecture sent the report to prosecutors in 2016 under suspicious that the company and the onsite supervisor violated the Industrial Safety and Health Act. The Iwaki Summary Court in the prefecture ordered the company to pay 100,000 yen in fines. The construction firm is suspected of filing the false report out of fear that the accident at the decontamination work site would discourage major construction companies from commissioning work from the firm.
The injured man tried to file for compensation from the company directly over the accident and for the difficulty in finding work afterwards due to aftereffects of the injuries, as well as the psychological strain the filing of the false report caused him. However, the company that had contracted the man filed for bankruptcy in June 2015. With no company to file his case against, the man decided to level his lawsuit requesting roughly 18 million yen in compensation against the Ehime construction company instead, claiming that because the contractor company had also supervised the workers, it was also responsible for their safety. The company refused to comment in response to an inquiry by the Mainichi Shimbun as the case is still in litigation.
Efforts by the Ministry of the Environment to decontaminate Fukushima's evacuation zones, excluding those designated difficult to return to zones, were completed in March 2017. However, according to an advocacy and support group for decontamination and power plant workers, there are many cases where the names of workers actually on site were not included in the original contractor's documents relating to the decontamination work and they were not enrolled in social insurance programs. This created an unstable work environment for those workers leading recovery efforts.