Group Introduction Radiation-exposed Workers’ Solidarity Network Nuke Info Tokyo No. 152

Protecting the safety and lives of radiation-exposed workers, who are coerced into trading their health for payments

by SHIN Koichi*

The Radiation-exposed Workers’ Solidarity Network was officially established on November 19, 2012 after a preparation period of more than one year. This Network consists of activists from various fields, including lawyers and members of labor unions, occupational safety and health centers, homeless-worker support groups, and anti-nuke organizations.

An estimated total of 400,000 people work in nuclear power plants in Japan, but the reality of their work conditions has been practically unknown. While such workers obtain salaries in exchange for exposure to radiation, thereby trading their health for cash payments, they are paid only what remains after subtractions are made by intermediate subcontractors, who form a complicated labor-supply system. The workers are not given the proper legally mandated safety training, and their exposure dose control is inappropriate. In fact, some workers have had false dosimeter readings recorded, or have even faked dosimeter readings with lead coverings, because workers whose radiation exposure exceeds the dose limit cannot be hired.

Nuclear-plant workers are laid off when each job is completed, and if a worker subsequently becomes ill due to exposure, no one assumes responsibility. A researcher said that radiation-exposed work is slave labor, and this is very true. Many nuclear-plant workers lose their dwellings when they lose jobs. Under such circumstances, workers cannot speak up easily. No employers hire workers who have raised their voices. Upper-layer subcontractors can avoid trouble and stay safe by terminating contracts with lower-layer subcontractors. The entities who benefit most from such a labor-supply structure are electric power companies, general constructors, and the government that has tacitly approved of it. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the required number of radiation-exposed workers has jumped and the exposure limit has been notably raised. Nevertheless, they continue to be hired at low pay and treated discriminatorily, the safety and health control issues being played down.

In addition, many local people are hired to remove radioactive material emitted to the environment from the Fukushima disaster. Like nuclear-plant work, this decontamination work is also controlled by multiple-layer subcontractors headed by general constructors, and has the same problems. One subcontractor defrauded workers of the hazardous-work allowances they are supposed to receive from the Japanese government. Some workers rose up in anger and negotiated repeatedly with the subcontractor in cooperation with local labor unions and this Network, and succeeded in having the allowances paid back. This Network intends to confront the government with such cases.

Many nuclear-plant and radiation-removal workers are locals. The very people who suffered from the earthquake and nuclear plant disaster are ones who are now cleaning up the post-disaster mess. The lives, employment conditions and health of such workers must be protected. The Network held a gathering to give these workers consultation on employment and health in Fukushima. A communication exchange gathering of decontamination workers was also organized. The Network is gradually developing detailed connections with actual workers. Even if nuclear power plants are closed, labor for reactor decommissioning will continue to be needed. The Network would like to work together with workers and improve their current labor conditions as much as possible while listening to their voices, learning more about them, spreading relevant information, and struggling with the current exploitative system.

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