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Vietnamese trainees sue Fukushima firm over decontamination work

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(Workers involved in decontamination work in the northeastern Japan town of Namie offer silent prayers to mourn victims of the March 2011 massive quake and tsunami on March 11, 2016.)
 
September 4, 2019
Three Vietnamese men on a foreign trainee program in Japan have sued a construction company for making them conduct radioactive decontamination work related to the March 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture without prior explanation, supporters of the plaintiffs said Wednesday.
The lawsuit, dated Tuesday and filed with a branch of the Fukushima District Court, demanded that Hiwada Co., based in Koriyama in the northeastern Japan prefecture, pay a total of about 12.3 million yen in damages, according to the supporters.
The case is the latest in a string of inappropriate practices under the Japanese government’s Technical Intern Training Program which has been often criticized as a cover for cheap labor.
According to Zentouitsu Workers Union, a Tokyo-based labor union that supports foreign trainees, Hiwada made the plaintiffs conduct decontamination work in the cities of Koriyma and Motomiya in Fukushima Prefecture between 2016 and 2018.
The Vietnamese, who arrived in Japan in July 2015, also did pipe work in the town of Namie while evacuation orders were still in place.
The plaintiffs’ contracts only said they would be engaging in reinforcing steel placement and formwork installation.
Hiwada did not provide them with detailed explanation on decontamination work beforehand, and it did not offer sufficient training either.
“We were not told that it was dangerous work. I am very worried about my future health,” said one of the plaintiffs, a 36-year-old, in a written statement.
In separate instances, foreign trainees have said they were inappropriately involved in decontamination work in Fukushima, including a Vietnamese man who said in March last year that he was hired by a construction firm in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture.
The Justice Ministry and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare have said decontamination work does not fit the purpose of the trainee program.
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September 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

TEPCO decides not to hire foreign workers at nuclear plant

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May 22, 2019
Workers check the advanced liquid processing system used to treat contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in December. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced May 22 it was backtracking on plans to use foreign workers at its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after the health ministry urged extreme caution.
The utility said it will not hire foreign workers at the plant “in the immediate future” as it will need “much more time to put a system in place to ensure their safety.”
The company noted that hiring foreign workers at the nuclear plant under a new specified skills visa category that took effect in April could result in work-related accidents and long-term health problems due to their lack of Japanese language skills and understanding of Japanese labor practices.
The announcement followed a health ministry caution May 21 for TEPCO to carefully reconsider its policy of using foreign workers at the complex.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare noted that TEPCO was keen to take advantage of a new specified skills visa category and hire foreign workers, but urged the company to exercise “extreme caution.”
The ministry was concerned about foreign nationals with a limited command of Japanese being in an environment contaminated with radioactive substances.
The ministry had said that if TEPCO went ahead with hiring foreign workers, the company and its contractors involved in decommissioning had to take at least the same level of protective measures that apply to Japanese workers to ensure that they fully understand safety sanitation and avoid the health risk of excessive radiation exposure.
Even though eight years have passed since the triple meltdown, radiation levels remain high in many areas of the Fukushima plant, especially around the reactor buildings.
The decommissioning process that is expected to take years will involve a range of gargantuan tasks, one being the removal of melted nuclear fuel debris from the reactors.
Under the recently revised immigration control law, foreign workers with specified skills are permitted to work at nuclear power plants.
The ministry acknowledges that it is ultimately up to individual employers to decide whether or not to accept foreign workers on their payrolls.
But experts in Japan and overseas who are keen for the new visa program to be a success have also voiced concerns about foreign workers at the Fukushima plant developing radiation-related health issues and being able to manage them after they return to their home countries.
Foreign workers arriving in Japan in one of the two categories of specified skills can stay in the country for up to five years.
“Since there are no legal constraints, the ministry moved one step ahead of TEPCO,” said a senior ministry official, referring to the request for a rethink of the policy.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga referred to the ministry’s caution at a May 21 news conference, saying that TEPCO should be prepared to fully address a range of health-related problems that may arise in the future.
The utility notified dozens of its contractors at a meeting in late March that it will accept foreign workers at the Fukushima plant.
Currently, about 4,000 people toil at the plant each day. Most areas of the complex are categorized as controlled areas to guard against radiation exposure.
Under the law, workers at a nuclear facility must not be exposed to more than 100 millisieverts of radiation over five years and 50 millisieverts a year.

 

 

May 27, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

TEPCO urged to be cautious about using foreign workers in Fukushima

21 may 2019
This photo taken from a Kyodo News helicopter shows a trailer (bottom center) thought to be carrying nuclear fuel from one of the reactor buildings at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
May 21, 2019
TOKYO (Kyodo) — The Japanese government on Tuesday urged the operator of the disaster-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to carefully examine its plan to have foreigners work at the complex under a new visa program, citing difficulties in managing the long-term health risk.
“It is necessary to give very deliberate consideration” to whether foreigners who come to Japan under the new visa program should engage in decommissioning work at the plant, labor minister Takumi Nemoto told reporters.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. said last month it plans to accept foreign workers at the facility hit by the 2011 megaquake and tsunami.
The minister expressed concern about the ability to conduct long-term health management for foreign workers after they return to their home countries upon expiration of their visas.
“It is necessary to establish a safety and health management procedure that is equivalent or more advanced than that for Japanese workers,” Nemoto said.
The new visa program launched this April is intended to bring in mainly blue-collar foreign workers to 14 labor-hungry sectors including construction, farming and nursing care in aging Japan. TEPCO has confirmed with the Justice Ministry that holders of visas under the scheme are eligible to work at the Fukushima plant.
The government also urged TEPCO to consider implementing measures to manage the amount of radiation exposure for workers engaged in decommissioning tasks.
It also requested the utility to study whether it can use native languages for safety training and when issuing safety warnings at workplaces for workers who lack general proficiency in the Japanese language and familiarity with the country’s customs.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare demanded TEPCO report back to the ministry on the outcome of its deliberations without setting a deadline.
TEPCO said it has told dozens of its subcontractors that foreigners coming to Japan under the new visa program can not only engage in decommissioning work at the plant, but also take up building cleaning roles and work in the provision of food service.
To prevent unsafe levels of radiation exposure, TEPCO has said foreign workers must have Japanese language abilities that enable them to accurately understand the risks and to follow procedures and orders communicated to them in Japanese.
In radiation-controlled areas, workers need to carry dosimeters. On average, approximately 4,000 people work for TEPCO subcontractors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant each day.
To address exploitation fears under the new visa system, the Justice Ministry has issued an ordinance requiring employers to pay wages equivalent to or higher than those of Japanese nationals.

May 27, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan needs thousands of foreign workers to decommission Fukushima plant, prompting backlash from anti-nuke campaigners and rights activists

Activists are not convinced working at the site is safe for anyone and they fear foreign workers will feel ‘pressured’ to ignore risks if jobs are at risk
Towns and villages around the plant are still out of bounds because radiation levels are dangerously high
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Workers move waste containing radiated soil, leaves and debris from the decontamination operation at a storage site in Naraha town.
26 Apr, 2019
Anti-nuclear campaigners have teamed up with human rights activists in Japan to condemn plans by the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to hire foreign workers to help decommission the facility.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) has announced it will take advantage of the government’s new working visa scheme, which was introduced on April 1 and permits thousands of foreign workers to come to Japan to meet soaring demand for labourers. The company has informed subcontractors overseas nationals will be eligible to work cleaning up the site and providing food services.
About 4,000 people work at the plant each day as experts attempt to decommission three reactors that melted down in the aftermath of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the huge tsunami it triggered. Towns and villages around the plant are still out of bounds because radiation levels are dangerously high.
TEPCO has stated foreign workers employed at the site must have Japanese language skills sufficient for them to understand instructions and the risks they face. Workers will also be required to carry dosimeters to monitor their exposure to radiation.
Activists are far from convinced working at the site is safe for anyone and they fear foreign workers will feel “pressured” to ignore the risks if their jobs are at risk.
“We are strongly opposed to the plan because we have already seen that workers at the plant are being exposed to high levels of radiation and there have been numerous breaches of labour standards regulations,” said Hajime Matsukubo, secretary general of the Tokyo-based Citizens’ Nuclear Information Centre. “Conditions for foreign workers at many companies across Japan are already bad but it will almost certainly be worse if they are required to work decontaminating a nuclear accident site.”
Companies are desperately short of labourers, in part because of the construction work connected to Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympic Games, while TEPCO is further hampered because any worker who has been exposed to 50 millisieverts of radiation in a single year or 100 millisieverts over five years is not permitted to remain at the plant. Those limits mean the company must find labourers from a shrinking pool.
In February, the Tokyo branch of Human Rights Now submitted a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva demanding action be taken to help and protect people with homes near the plant and workers at the site.
“It has been reported that vulnerable people have been illegally deceived by decontamination contractors into conducting decontamination work without their informed consent, threatening their lives, including asylum seekers under false promises and homeless people working below minimum wage,” the statement said. “Much clean-up depends on inexperienced subcontractors with little scrutiny as the government rushes decontamination for the Olympic Games.”
Cade Moseley, an official of the organisation, said there are “very clear, very definite concerns”.
“There is evidence that foreign workers in Japan have already felt under pressure to do work that is unsafe and where they do not fully understand the risks involved simply because they are worried they will lose their working visas if they refuse,” he said.
In an editorial published on Wednesday, the Mainichi newspaper also raised concerns about the use of semi-skilled foreign labourers at the site.
“There is a real risk of radiation exposure at the Daiichi plant and the terminology used on-site is highly technical, making for a difficult environment,” the paper said. “TEPCO and its partners must not treat the new foreign worker system as an employee pool that they can simply dip into.”
The paper pointed out that it may be difficult to accurately determine foreign employees’ radiation levels if they have been working in the nuclear industry before coming to Japan, while they may also confront problems in the event of an accident and they need to apply for workers’ accident compensation. TEPCO has played down the concerns.
“About 4,000 Japanese workers are already working on the decommissioning and clean-up work at Fukushima Dai-ichi,” the company said. “The amendment to the regulations on workers from overseas is a measure that creates more employment opportunities, including for foreign nationals with specific skills.
“In March, TEPCO explained the new regulations to its contractor companies involved in the clean-up work at Fukushima Dai-ichi and we have also confirmed that those companies will be in compliance with the regulations covering the safety of workers.”

May 1, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Safety, language measures needed for foreigners to work at Fukushima plant

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April 24, 2019
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) is preparing to bring in
foreign workers with special technical skills to join decommissioning work on the disaster-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
At present, an average of 4,000 employees of TEPCO and cooperating firms work at the facility every day. Laws and regulations stipulate that workers’ radiation exposure must be limited to 50 millisieverts in a single year, and 100 millisieverts over five years. No one is allowed to stay at the plant once they hit one of these caps, so waves of new employees must be brought in to maintain worker numbers.
Decommissioning the Daiichi plant, which suffered a triple core meltdown in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, is expected to take 30 to 40 years. Whether the companies involved can sustain sufficient staffing levels will be one factor that determines the success or failure of the project.
When it comes to tapping foreign labor to make up the required numbers, the Justice Ministry — which has jurisdiction over Japan’s immigration system — has already declined to approve sending foreign technical intern trainees to work at the plant. One of the core tenets of the foreign technical trainee program is that the job placements must provide the trainees with skills they can use in their home countries, and working to decommission a devastated nuclear plant did not fit the bill.
TEPCO is now turning its eyes to foreign workers with Category 1 work visas, one of the new residency statuses launched on April 1 and aimed at those with certain skills and experience. Technical trainees with three years’ experience in Japan can obtain this visa without a skills exam.
However, there is a real risk of radiation exposure at the Daiichi plant, and the terminology used on-site is highly technical, making for a difficult environment. TEPCO and its partners must not treat the new foreign worker system as an employee pool they can simply dip into.
The workers’ Japanese level is particularly a cause for worry. To obtain a Category 1 visa, applicants must speak Japanese at only a “daily conversational” level. However, anyone working at the Daiichi site must understand a slew of technical terms related to radiation and other facets of the decommissioning process, meaning a very high level of Japanese is absolutely indispensable. If foreign employees begin working there without having learned the necessary terminology, we believe there is a real risk they could be ordered to do jobs that exposed them to radiation.
TEPCO has said it is up to its project partners whether they employ Category 1 foreign workers. In fact, the majority of people at Fukushima Daiichi are employed by one of the firms that make up the layers upon layers of subcontractors working on the decommissioning. Nevertheless, as the company heading the project, TECPO has a responsibility to oversee the conditions of every worker, right down to the bottom of the pyramid.
Furthermore, if a foreign worker has been exposed to radiation overseas, that dose must be added to their sievert count at the plant. However, it is up to the worker to report any previous radiation exposure, which can make it difficult to properly track and manage their doses.
If a worker develops a radiation-related illness after returning to their home country, will they be able to smoothly apply for workers’ accident compensation? This is also a serious worry.
If Japan is to accept foreign workers to help decommission the Fukushima Daiichi plant, it is absolutely essential to create the appropriate environment, including measures to boost their Japanese skills and strengthen radiation exposure management.

May 1, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Ministry limits foreigners doing Fukushima cleanup

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April 19, 2019
Japanese Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita has outlined a restriction pertaining to the country’s new visa program. He said foreign nationals won’t be allowed to work in Japan if their main task is to do decontamination work at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
 
Yamashita’s remark on Friday follows the plant operator’s statement that it will accept foreign workers hired under the new visa program to help decommission the facility.
 
Tokyo Electric Power Company says that construction, industrial machinery and automobile maintenance will be relevant to the decommissioning. The utility told the contractors to make sure they hire foreign workers legally.
 
TEPCO also says it’s not aware of a shortage of workers in the decommissioning process, but that it is up to the contractors to decide whether to hire foreigners under the new visa category.
 
Yamashita said that the Justice Ministry and other relevant ministries will ensure that foreigners in the program are eligible for the jobs they are hired to do.
 
Yamashita said foreigners coming to work in the construction sector must not be hired if their main job is decontamination work.
 
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the industry ministry will supervise TEPCO to make sure the utility’s operations are legal and that the plant’s reactors are decommissioned safely and stably.
 
A revised immigration law that took effect on April 1 allows foreign nationals with certain vocational skills to work in a range of sectors under a new visa category.
 

April 23, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

TEPCO plans to use new foreign workers at Fukushima plant

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Rows of storage tanks hold radiation-contaminated water on the grounds of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
April 18, 2019
Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to use the new visa program to deploy foreign workers to its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, sparking concerns that language barriers could cause safety hazards and accidents.
The specified skills visa program started in April to alleviate labor shortages in 14 different industrial sectors. TEPCO says it has long lacked enough workers for decommissioning work at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
At a March 28 meeting, the utility explained its plan to hire foreign workers to dozens of construction and other companies that have been contracted for decommissioning work.
TEPCO officials asked the companies to be aware that workers sent to radiation monitoring zones must wear dosimeters and receive special education about the dangers they will face.
The new work visa program requires the foreign workers to have a minimum level of Japanese language ability needed for daily life.
But TEPCO officials reminded the company representatives that Japanese language skills would be even more important at the Fukushima plant because of the need to accurately understand radiation levels and follow instructions by superiors and colleagues regarding work safety.
TEPCO officials said they would ask the contracting companies to check on the Japanese language skills of prospective foreign workers.
But at least one construction company has already decided not to hire any foreign workers.
“The work rules at the No. 1 plant are very complicated,” said a construction company employee who has worked at the Fukushima plant. “I am also worried about whether thorough education can be conducted on radiation matters. It would be frightening if an accident occurred due to a failure of communication.”
According to TEPCO officials, an average of about 4,000 people work at the nuclear plant each day, mostly in zones where radiation levels must be constantly monitored.
To stay within the legal limits on exposure levels, workers often have to be replaced, leading to difficulties for TEPCO in gathering the needed number of workers.
Between April 2018 and February this year, 11,109 people worked at the Fukushima plant. Of that number, 763 were found to have levels of radiation exposure between 10 and 20 millisieverts, while 888 had levels between 5 and 10 millisieverts.
The legal limit for radiation exposure for workers at nuclear plants is 50 millisieverts a year, and 100 millisieverts over a five-year period.
The Justice Ministry has disciplined companies that used technical intern trainees for decontamination work without adequately informing them of the dangers. The ministry has also clearly stated that such trainees are prohibited from doing decommissioning work at the Fukushima plant.
However, Justice Ministry officials told TEPCO that foreigners with the new visa status could work alongside Japanese staff at the nuclear plant.
Although their numbers are small, foreign workers and engineers have been accepted at the Fukushima plant. As of February, 29 foreigners had been registered as workers engaged in jobs that expose them to radiation.
A construction company official said such foreign workers were hired after their Japanese language ability was confirmed.
But concerns remains on whether the new foreign workers will be able to properly understand how much radiation exposure they have experienced.
“Even Japanese workers are not sure about how to apply for workers’ compensation due to radiation exposure,” said Minoru Ikeda, 66, who has published a book about his experiences in decommissioning work at the Fukushima plant until 2015. “The problem would only be exacerbated for foreign workers.”
Kazumi Takagi, a sociology professor at Gifu University, has conducted interviews with nuclear plant workers.
Noting the need for special protective gear to work at the Fukushima site, Takagi said: “Unless workers can instantly understand the language when minor mistakes or sudden problems occur, it could lead to a major accident. That, in turn, could cause major delays in the work.”

April 23, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | 1 Comment

As Japan Tries Out Immigration, Migrant Workers Complain Of Exploitation

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An employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. works at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant to decontaminate the area after the 2011 nuclear meltdown. A Vietnamese laborer in Japan on a training program says he was also put to work cleaning up the site, but with inadequate gear.
January 15, 2019
The wind howls and snow drifts around a house in Koriyama, in northeastern Japan’s Fukushima prefecture. The town is inland from Fukushima’s coastal areas that were devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown.
Inside the home, several Vietnamese laborers prepare dinner. The house is a shelter, run by local Catholics, for foreign workers who are experiencing problems in Japan.
One of the workers is surnamed Nguyen. He came to Japan in 2015 as part of a government program for technical trainees. He asked to use only his last name, as he doesn’t want his family in Vietnam to know what he’s been through.
He says he paid the equivalent of about $9,200 to a Vietnamese broker and signed a contract with a private construction company in Koriyama, Japan, to get on-the-job training as a rebar worker.
“I expected to come to a country more developed, clean and civilized than my own,” he recalls. “In my mind, Japan had many good things, and I wanted to learn professional skills to take home.”
 
Instead, he says he was ordered to do jobs such as removing radiation-contaminated soil from land around the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
“We were deceived,” Nguyen says, referring both to himself, and technical trainees in general.
He would not identify the company by name so as to avoid undermining negotiations he and a workers union are holding with the firm to get compensation.
He says the company issued him gloves and a mask, but not the kind of gear that would protect him against radiation. He did receive a radiation detector to wear, but only before safety inspectors paid a visit. He complained to the company, which ignored him.
Complicating matters, he had borrowed money from a bank and family members in Vietnam to pay the broker who helped him get to Japan.
“I wanted to sue my company, but I didn’t know how,” Nguyen explains. “I didn’t speak Japanese, or understand Japan’s legal system. So all I could do was be patient, and keep working to pay off the debt.”
Technical trainees like Nguyen now account for about 20 percent of the 1.3 million foreign laborers in Japan, according to government data cited by local media.
The Japanese government intends to bring in 345,000 more foreign workers in the next five years, to staff sectors including restaurants, construction, agriculture and nursing. Many will come from nations such as China, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Japan has both the world’s third-largest economy, and fastest-aging population. It also faces an acute labor shortage. Now, it is doing something previously unthinkable: allowing immigration — even as its prime minister denies it.
But advocates for the foreign workers warn that without an overhaul of the technical training program, many of the newcomers could be subjected to the same sort of exploitation Nguyen says he has experienced. Critics equate the training program with “slavery,” and deride it as the creation of labor without a labor force.
Most trainees are paid below minimum wage. They die of work-related causes at twice Japan’s overall rate, according to an analysis of government data by The Japan Times.
The problem of labor brokers using debt to enslave would-be immigrants is an element in human trafficking in many countries around the world.
The Japanese government has promised to crack down on unscrupulous brokers, establish 100 “consultation centers” where trainees can report abuses, increase Japanese language training for enrollees and generally strengthen oversight of the program.
But the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report for 2018 says that, so far, Japan has failed to prevent brokers from holding technical trainees in “debt bondage,” and sometimes the authorities arrest trainees who escape from “exploitative conditions,” instead of helping and protecting them.
Many conservative opponents of immigration would prefer that foreign workers don’t stay in Japan after finishing the program.
Speaking before the Diet, Japan’s parliament, in October, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied that the country is opening its door to immigration.
“We are not considering adopting a so-called immigration policy,” he insisted. “To cope with the labor shortage, we will expand the current system to accept foreign workers in special fields. We will accept foreign human resources that are skilled and work-ready, but only for a limited time.”
Japan’s parliament, which is controlled by the ruling right-wing Liberal Democratic Party, passed Abe’s plan last month.
Shiro Sasaki, secretary-general of the Zentoitsu Workers Union, which represents some of the foreign workers, rejects Abe’s argument, and adds that Japan’s government is not facing up to the reality of immigration.
“Abe’s definition of an immigrant is someone who lives in Japan long-term, with family,” he says. “But by international standards, the trainees are immigrants. In this sense we can say that Japan is already an immigrant society.”
Sasaki says that opening Japan’s door to immigrants even a tiny crack is better than tricking them into coming.
He says Japan has never experienced mass immigration in modern times, and it has failed to assimilate those few immigrants it has taken in. He sees the whole issue as a test of character for this island nation.
“Japan has never been able to examine itself and define itself in terms of diversity,” he argues. “Now we must live with diversity, and every single Japanese person must think about it.”
Then again, Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo, argues that Abe may have no choice but to reform by stealth.
“Immigration is unfortunately not popular even in countries like the U.S. … which historically have been nations that have been built on immigration. So obviously he’s not going to say: ‘Vote for me, I will bring in 10 million foreigners.'”
Many analysts compare the technical training program to Germany’s gastarbeiter or guest worker program of the 1950s-70s. It too took in laborers from poorer neighboring countries — particularly Turkey — but tried to limit workers’ stay in order to prevent immigration. But the cost of hiring and training temporary workers was too high.
Many workers stayed on, paving the way for Germany to see itself as a de facto immigration nation.
Current trainees like Nguyen may be eligible to remain in the country for up to five years on a new class of visas.
But Nguyen says that without decent pay and a chance to learn new skills, he has no interest in staying on.

January 20, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | 2 Comments

Foreign Trainees Used in the Cleanup of Fukushima Nuke Plant

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Foreign workers who have been employed at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant are pictured in Fukushima Prefecture.
Despite ban, foreign trainees working at crippled Fukushima nuclear plant
May 1, 2018
FUKUSHIMA — At least four foreign technical intern trainees are working at the construction site on the premises of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant despite the policy of its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), that bans the employment of such trainees there, the Mainichi has learned.
TEPCO has acknowledged to the Mainichi that the foreigners are indeed at work at the plant in Fukushima Prefecture. The plant has been shut down due to the core meltdown accidents at some of its nuclear reactors after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan.
A TEPCO official said that the practice of letting the trainees work does not match the intentions of the Technical Intern Training System. “We will demand our contractors to thoroughly check the residency status (of their foreign workers). We will do our own checks too,” the official said.
The Mainichi investigation has found that the four Vietnamese and other trainees are in their 20s or 30s and two of them just arrived in Japan last year and thus speak little Japanese. Two more foreign construction workers operate inside the grounds of the Fukushima plant.
The six workers, employed by a Tokyo-based subcontractor of a major construction company, are involved in laying the foundations of a new facility designed to burn rubble or trees with potential radioactive contamination. The work began in November last year.
According to TEPCO, the area the six workers are assigned to is outside the radiation controlled area where protection from radiation is necessary. Although they are inside the premises of the nuclear power plant, they did not receive training on how to protect themselves from radiation, and there is no need to control their radiation exposure, the company said.
The six workers are made to wear dosimeters but told the Mainichi that they were not aware of the amount of radiation they have received.
The Technical Intern Training System is designed to transfer technology to developing countries, but Vietnam does not have nuclear power plants where workers could be exposed to radiation. The Vietnamese government ended a plan to construct a nuclear power plant in 2016 due to a shortage of funds and out of consideration of public opposition following the nuclear disaster at the TEPCO plant in 2011.
TEPCO officials told a news conference in February 2017 that the company wanted to protect the working environment with its own control measures as the training system was designed for the trainees to acquire knowledge and experience in Japan and pass that on to people at home.
A TEPCO official told the Mainichi that the company does not accept technical intern trainees to work at locations even outside the radiation controlled areas, adding that the company intends to strengthen the contractual management of its contractors.
The president of the construction company that hires the six foreigners said that he was told by the main contractor to refrain from using foreign workers as much as possible. “But our industry cannot carry on without foreigners any longer,” he said.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, some 55,000 foreigners were reported to have worked in the construction sector in 2017, more than four times the number recorded five years earlier. Out of the 2017 total, some 37,000 were technical intern trainees.
(Japanese original by Shunsuke Sekiya, Chiba Bureau)
 
 
Foreign workers vital for Japanese contractor in cleanup at Fukushima nuke plant
May 1, 2018
FUKUSHIMA — Foreign technical intern trainees have been employed in what is said to be a 40-year-long decommissioning operation underway at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) in the wake of devastating core meltdowns in 2011. While they are not supposed to be there under TEPCO policy, they are still considered indispensable by their employer, commissioned by TEPCO.
The homelands of the interns include Vietnam, a country that abandoned plans to import a nuclear reactor from Japan two years ago. As trainees, they are supposed to “transfer” their experiences in Japan to their compatriots back home. But in the case of Vietnam, there is no chance of using such know-how in the non-nuclear country. What is going through the minds of the trainees as they engage in this work?
“Hosha-kei, hosha-kei, hosha-kei,” one foreign worker repeated when the Mainichi Shimbun asked six workers from Vietnam and elsewhere about their job at the plant in February. It was not clear whether he meant radiation, radioactivity or a dosimeter.
“The job is easy and many Japanese workers are with us. I think (safety) is OK,” said another foreign worker who had the best command of the Japanese language in the group. The location they started working last fall is outside the radiation controlled areas and everyone there is in ordinary workers’ outfits.
The president of the Tokyo-based company that employs the six has nothing but praise for them. “People say they are so good at their work. I depend on them very much.” The six workers make up two-thirds of the company’s workforce, which also includes three Japanese nationals.
When the company was founded some 30 years ago it employed over 20 Japanese workers in their 20s, but now foreigners are vital for its operations. Says the president: “Japanese youngsters quit easily but foreigners stick with us because they borrow heavily to come to Japan and cannot go home at least for three years,” a requirement for technical intern trainees.
The six each borrowed between 1.2 million and 1.5 million yen to pay for their trip to Japan and other expenses. Four of them are paying back the debt as they work. They all share a one-story, three-room wooden apartment near the plant that includes a small dining room and a kitchen.
When one male foreign worker who barely spoke Japanese was asked why he came to Japan, he replied in Japanese, “Okane” (money).
The workers have not told their families they are working at the nuclear plant. “My family would worry and tell me to come home,” one man said in broken Japanese.
(Japanese original by Shunsuke Sekiya, Chiba Bureau)
 
 
TEPCO: Foreign trainees worked at Fukushima nuclear plant
May 2, 2018
Six people in the government’s foreign technical trainee program worked at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant until the end of April despite Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s ban on such dispatches.
A TEPCO official on May 1 said the company had failed to sufficiently check the situation concerning workers at the nuclear plant.
The utility in February 2017 said it would not have foreign trainees work at the plant, which has continued to leak radiation since being struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
The six workers were employed by a subcontractor of Tokyo-based Hazama Ando Corp.
They started working at the plant between October and December last year and were involved in construction of an incinerator on the premises to destroy contaminated protective clothing and other materials.
They were not required to wear protective gear against radiation because they worked outside the radiation-controlled area.
“We will ask prime contractors once more to check the status of workers (under their supervision),” the TEPCO official said.
The company said it also intends to check whether other foreign trainees have ended up working at the plant.
The purpose of the foreign trainee program is to pass down skills and expertise that interns can use to help their home countries. However, a number of cases have shown that companies are exploiting the program to obtain cheap labor, sometimes for dangerous tasks.
In March, it was revealed that a Vietnamese trainee was involved in decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture but had not been told of the potential hazards.
A Justice Ministry official said decontamination work is an inappropriate job for foreign trainees.

May 5, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Contractors siphoned 1.6 million yen off pay of Vietnamese trainees sent to Fukushima

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TOKYO — Construction firms skimmed roughly 1.6 million yen off the danger allowances of three Vietnamese technical trainees they sent to do cleanup work in the Fukushima nuclear disaster area over a period of seven months, the Environment Ministry announced on April 12.
The ministry punished four firms over the finding, including the construction firm “Creation” in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, and a prime contractor. The firms were suspended from participating in bidding for public projects for one month from April 13.
According to the Environment Ministry, Creation skimmed up to 4,600 yen per day off trainees’ danger allowances from September to December 2016, and March to May 2017, when they were working at home demolition sites in Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture.
(Japanese original by Kazuhiro Igarashi, Science & Environment News Department)

April 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Contractor skimmed pay of Vietnamese trainees doing Fukushima cleanup work

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TOKYO — A construction firm siphoned off the danger allowances of Vietnamese technical trainees it sent to do cleanup work in the Fukushima nuclear disaster area, the Environment Ministry announced on April 6.
 
The firm, which assigned the technical trainees to radioactive decontamination and home demolition work, used false wage records in explaining that the allowances had been paid. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is investigating the firm for suspected violations of the Labor Standards Act.
 
The foreign trainee system is intended to bring foreign workers from developing countries to Japan to learn technical skills.
 
The Environment Ministry has confirmed that the construction firm skimmed off the trainees’ danger allowances in 2016 and 2017, when they worked at a demolition site in Kawamata, Fukushima Prefecture.
 
One of the trainees spoke about the pay-skimming at a news conference on March 14 this year. However, the construction firm had given Environment Ministry investigators the falsified wage records, and Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa stated on March 27 that the danger allowances had been paid.
 

April 9, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Govt. bans decontamination work by foreign interns

 

March 16, 2018
The Japanese government has decided to ban companies from using foreign trainees to carry out decontamination work in areas affected by the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
 
The decision comes after a Vietnamese man complained that he was asked to remove contaminated soil in Fukushima Prefecture. He told a news conference that he would never have come to Japan if he had known that he would be doing this kind of work. He also expressed concern about the possible impact on his health.
 
The man came to Japan under a government-backed technical internship program that allows foreigners to acquire skills and knowhow.
 
The ministries in charge of the program say that decontamination is not suitable work for interns.
 
They say they will make it mandatory for companies to submit a pledge that trainees will not be asked to do this kind of task.
 
A group that supports foreign interns says there have been similar cases.
 
The ministries will warn companies if other cases are discovered and may consider revoking their permission to hire foreign interns.
 

March 17, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Vietnamese trainee paid US$19 a day to do decontamination work near crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan

15 March, 2018,
Japan introduced the training programme for foreign workers in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme has drawn criticism for giving Japanese companies a cover to import cheap labour
15 march 2018 vietnamese worker decontamination.jpg
A Vietnamese man who came to Japan under a foreign trainee programme was made to engage in radioactive decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture without his knowledge, a foreign workers support group heard.
 
At an event organised by the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan, the 24-year-old man, who declined to be named, said he would have “never come to Japan” if he had known he would be doing that work near where a nuclear disaster occurred in 2011.
 
The Vietnamese said a construction company in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, hired him as a trainee, but did not tell him the work involved removing decontaminated material from around where the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in the days after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan in March 2011.
 
Japan introduced the training programme for foreign workers in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme, applicable to agriculture and manufacturing among other sectors, has drawn criticism at home and abroad for giving Japanese companies a cover to import cheap labour.
15 march 2018 vietnamese worker decontamination2
According to the network, the Vietnamese man arrived in Japan in September 2015, and his contract only stated he would be engaging in work involving “construction machinery, dismantling, and civil engineering.”
 
Without any explanation about decontamination, he was told to remove the surface soil from roads and nearby residences in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, between October 2015 and March 2016.
 
He also took part in dismantling buildings in the town of Kawamata in the prefecture between September and December in 2016 before an evacuation order for the area was lifted.
15 march 2018 vietnamese worker decontamination3
The man became suspicious about the work after seeing someone measuring radiation levels at the work sites, and he discovered the nature of the work after contacting the Zentoitsu Workers Union, an organisation helping foreign workers in Japan.
 
He also received only 2,000 yen (US$19) a day for decontamination work, less than a third of the 6,600 yen set as the standard by the Environment Ministry, in addition to his monthly salary of about 150,000 yen as a foreign trainee.
 
According to the union, this is the first known case of a foreign trainee’s involvement in decontamination work.
 
The Justice Ministry’s immigration bureau and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare released statements on Wednesday, saying decontamination work does not fit the purpose of the trainee programme.
 
“If the content of training is significantly different from the plan, it can be illegal,” the immigration bureau said.
 

March 16, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fury sparked in Japan as companies found duping foreign refugees into decontamination work in Fukushima

TOKYO, March 17 (Xinhua)– “Such scams are a shame to Japan,” said a reporter from Tokyo Metropolitan Television Broadcasting Corp., referring to a recently-exposed scandal involving labor dispatch agencies duping foreign refugees into doing decontamination work in Fukushima.

Various local media have exposed recently that some Japanese companies have swindled foreign refugees into doing decontamination work in Fukushima with empty promises that such work might help extend their visas to stay in Japan.

Fifty-year-old Hosein Moni and 42-year-old Hosein Deroaru from Bangladesh were both caught in such a scam, according to a recent report by the Chunichi Shimbun, one of the largest newspapers in Japan.

The two came to Japan in 2013 seeking to be recognized as political refugees. In Japan, foreigners are given temporary permission to stay for up to six months at one application before they are recognized as refugees and given status as residents.

According to government data, the number of refugees actually afforded recognition as refugees in Japan is disproportionately low among developed nations, while the numbers of those applying for refugee status has been rapidly increasing in recent years in Japan.

The government received some 5,000 such applications in 2014, but only 11 were granted refugee status, according to the data.

Moni and Deroaru were told by a so-called labor dispatch agency in Nagoya that they could do decontamination work in exchange for an extension of their visa.

The two, knowing little Japanese and trying to seize every opportunity they could, accepted the job and worked in Fukushima for three months in 2015.

But when they finished their work and went to the local immigration bureau to extend their stay, they were told by officers there that they knew nothing about such a policy.

They later found out that the construction company that had hired them had changed its company name, and its Fukushima branch had closed.

Half of the 20 workers that they had worked with in Fukushima were foreigners, many of whom had been applying for refugee status in Japan, the pair later recalled.

Their work mainly involved clearing away contaminated soil with spades, and while they were at work might well have been affected by high levels of radiation. “The radiation detectors we brought with us kept sounding alarms, which was rather scary,” they were quoted as saying.

The incident, after been exposed by local media, also caused a splash on social network sites. Many Japanese netizens felt indignant that such scams were happening in their homeland.

“Earthquake, nuclear plant, poverty… there are always some people trying to cheat or hurt other people here just for money,” remarked Kojima on Twitter.

“Why has my home country degenerated to such a low place,” said “Hootoo,” another netizen here.

They also called on the Japanese government to strengthen regulations on the Japanese companies to prevent such scams from happening.

Japan’s immigration bureau, for its part, said that the incident was with “vile nature”, and it would conduct investigations soon.

In fact, however, for a long time, due to lack of manpower, many of Japan’s “three-K” (kiken, kitanai, kitsui, which means dangerous, dirty and tiring) jobs have been done by foreign immigrants, as the Japanese are reluctant to do such work.

“As Japanese people don’t want to do the work, it has to be done by foreigners,” said Ishikawa, a Brazil-born Japanese who was in charge of coordinating foreign workers in decommissioning work linked to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, according to a report published by the Mainichi Shimbun last year.

Most of the foreign workers could hardly speak Japanese. As anti-radiation brochures provided by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO), were only available in Japanese or English, many of the workers could not understand it, Ishikawa was quoted as saying.

The foreign workers, to some extent, saved the contractors and TEPCO by pushing forward the decommissioning work of the nuclear plant, remarked the report.

A magnitude-9.0 earthquake in 2011 triggered a massive tsunami which destroyed the emergency power and then the cooling system of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and caused a serious nuclear disaster, forcing some 300,000 people to evacuate.

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, has said it plans to decommission the crippled reactors in about four decades.

However, the difficult tasks such as processing contaminated water, cooling the reactors and removing nuclear fuel and debris, continue to pose serious challenges to the power company as well as the government.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-03/17/c_136137295.htm

March 20, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Radioactive Debris: 2 Bangladeshis tricked into cleanup job

Two Bangladeshi asylum seekers in Japan cleared up radioactive contamination from one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters on the false promise doing so would win them permission to stay in the country longer, media reported yesterday.

The Fukushima nuclear plant suffered multiple meltdowns after being hit by a tsunami triggered by a big earthquake on March 11, 2011. Companies decontaminating areas around the plant, which usually involves removing radioactive top soil, have struggled to find workers willing to do the job.

The two men, who arrived in Japan in 2013 saying they were escaping political persecution, said they were told by brokers and construction companies that their visas would be extended if they did decontamination work, the Chunichi newspaper reported.

“We believed the visa story because they said it’s a job Japanese people don’t want to do,” Chunichi quoted one of the men, Monir Hossain, as saying.

Reuters was not able to reach the two men.

The men did the decontamination work in Iitate village, about 50 km (30 miles) south of the plant, from January to March 2015, Chunichi said.

Japan maintains tight controls on the entry of foreign workers but asylum seekers are allowed to work while their applications are reviewed. Many have permits allowing them to stay and work that have to be renewed every six months.

Mitsushi Uragami, a justice ministry official who oversees refugee recognition, said there were no residence permits on offer for people doing decontamination.

“The length of asylum seekers’ residence permits and them doing decontamination work are unrelated. If anyone is giving inaccurate explanations about this, it’s problematic,” Uragami told Reuters.

The department was investigating the case, he said.

Takuya Nomoto, an environment ministry official overseeing decontamination, said the Chunichi report did not give the names of the companies or labour brokers involved, and as such the ministry was not able to confirm it.

“The ministry expects all contractors involved in decontamination to comply with the law,” he said.

The Fukushima Labour Bureau said this month more than half of the 1,020 companies involved in decontamination violated labour and safety laws last year.

Reuters revealed in 2013 that homeless men were put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima for less than the minimum wage.

Reuters also found the clean-up depended on a little scrutinised network of subcontractors – many of them inexperienced with nuclear work and some with ties to organised crime.

http://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/fukushima-nuke-debris-2-bangladeshis-tricked-cleanup-job-1373098

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | 1 Comment