Private labor contractors in Japan are "recruiting" homeless individuals throughout the country, luring them to perform clean-up work in the areas near the destroyed nuclear power plant at Fukushima for less than minimum wage.
That's the finding of a new special Reuters investigation which says that shady business operators are employing men like Seiji Sasa to "prowl" train stations and other places throughout the country targeting "homeless men" who are "willing to accept minimum wage for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong."
The investigation found a shady but systematic labor scheme—much of it run by organized crime but also involving some of the nation's top construction firms—in which day laborers are exploited by contractors receiving state funds to clean up areas near the plant.
"We're an easy target for recruiters," said 57-year-old Shizuya Nishiyama, a homeless man recruited at a train station in the city of Sendai. "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."
In exchange for bringing workers to the sites, the middlemen receive a cut of their wages.
"I don't ask questions; that's not my job," said Sasa, one of these so-called "middle men," in an interview with Reuters. "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."
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Reviewing police records and conducting interviews with some of the people directly involved, Reuters reveals the ongoing and perilous nature of the clean-up work at Fukushima and the ways in which society's most vulnerable are being exploited for profit in the aftermath of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.
According to Reuters, the scheme plays out when large construction firms like Obayashi, the nation's second biggest and major contractor at Fukushima, employs sub-contractors like Sasa:
Seiji Sasa, 67, a broad-shouldered former wrestling promoter, was photographed by undercover police recruiting homeless men at the Sendai train station to work in the nuclear cleanup. The workers were then handed off through a chain of companies reporting up to Obayashi, as part of a $1.4 million contract to decontaminate roads in Fukushima, police say. [...]
Only a third of the money allocated for wages by Obayashi's top contractor made it to the workers Sasa had found. The rest was skimmed by middlemen, police say. After deductions for food and lodging, that left workers with an hourly rate of about $6, just below the minimum wage equal to about $6.50 per hour in Fukushima, according to wage data provided by police. Some of the homeless men ended up in debt after fees for food and housing were deducted, police say.
Read the complete investigation here.