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

The homeless men cleaning up the nuclear disaster end up getting less than minimum wage.

Photo Credit: boscorelli/

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.”


Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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