Homeless People Recruited for Dangerous Fukushima Clean-Up Are then Underpaid and Exploited

Some of the most marginalized members of Japanese society are being recruited to clean-up a highly toxic site. A Reuters investigation reveals that homeless people in Japan are working to clean radioactive soil and debris that emerged as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster three years ago. The news comes as the $35-billion clean-up around the site has dragged behind schedule.


In October, homeless men were recruited at a train station to work for minimum wage on the clean-up, which is located in an area of north Japan bigger than Hong Kong. The Fukushima nuclear disaster leveled Japanese cities and spread radioactive material in the country.

The homeless men ended up getting shorted on wages, though, and worked for less than minimum wage. The men’s ultimate employer was Obayashi, one of the many contractors the Japanese government is working with to clean-up Fukushima. While they have not been accused of wrongdoing, arrests have shown that Japanese crime gangs--Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai--had set up underground recruiting agencies that get homeless people to work for them. The business is more lucrative than others because the Japanese government gives $100 extra as a hazard allowance as part of the contracts.

One homeless recruiter named Seiji Sasa, who was arrested and released without charge, told Reuters that he doesn’t “ask questions; that's not my job...I just find people and send them to work. I send them and get money in exchange. That's it. I don't get involved in what happens after that.” But only a third of the wages for the men actually went in their pockets.

According to Reuters, parts of the wages were taken by middlemen. The homeless people were paid about $6 an hour to help with the nuclear clean-up, which is below the required $6.50.  One of the middlemen who made $10,000 was arrested and had to pay a $2,500 fine.

“We're an easy target for recruiters,” said Shizuya Nishiyama, who is homeless. “We turn up here with all our bags, wheeling them around and we're easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven't eaten, they offer to find us a job.”


 

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.