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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

TEPCO's mea culpa

Tepco president admits No. 1 plant workers hired via murky system




The head of Tokyo Electric Power Co. has acknowledged that hundreds of workers at the Fukushima No. 1 plant were mobilized through a murky hiring system.

 President Naomi Hirose on Monday attributed the hiring problem to high worker turnover at the highly contaminated work site, adding that the problem became prevalent as Tepco tried desperately to recruit workers willing to take jobs with high risks of radiation exposure.

The plant has been substantially stabilized since it was devastated by the March 2011 quake and tsunami, but full decommissioning is expected to take decades.

Hirose said Tepco is working to fix the hiring problem, which he attributed to an industrywide hierarchical contract system. But he said that the deep-rooted practice cannot be changed overnight, and that a full overhaul will be difficult.

"Ideally, it would be best if we reform the contract hiring system and start from there, but it will be extremely time-consuming," he said. "It's a difficult task we cannot do on our own. It will take heavy-duty work. It involves history and business ties, and could even hurt the industry."

In a recent Tepco survey of some 2,400 contract workers, dozens said they were instructed to falsify affiliations, while some complained they never received a written contract. The survey, taken in September and October, showed that about half were being paid by different companies than the ones that hired them — an indication of illegal labor contracts.

Nearly 90 percent said their employers were ranked from second to fourth in the hierarchy of subcontractors. About one-quarter said their employers never notified them of their radiation exposure details.

The hiring problem has intensified since last year's disaster, and some workers have come forward and complained that their salaries have been siphoned off or allowances not given.

Hirose said securing a workforce that can last through decades-long postdisaster operations will be critical to cleanup efforts.

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