Japan’s justice ministry is investigating a case involving a Vietnamese national who was allegedly duped into taking part in decontamination work in the affected areas of the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, local media reported.
The 24-year-old Vietnamese, who is not named for legal reasons, arrived in Japan under the government’s foreign trainee program and worked for a construction firm in Iwate Prefecture, according to Japan Times.
While he was supposed to conduct dismantling and public engineering work, the man was allegedly tasked with cleanup work in contaminated areas in Fukushima Prefecture, exposing him to radiation, according to Zentoitsu Workers Union, a Tokyo-based organization that represents him in the case.
The Fukushima disaster cleanup is an ongoing attempt to limit radioactive contamination from the three nuclear reactors involved in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which was initiated primarily by the tsunami following the Tohoku earthquake on March 11, 2011.
Japan Times quoted Shiro Sasaki, secretary-general of the Zentoitsu Workers Union, as saying that the man arrived in Japan from Vietnam in September 2015 on a three-year contract with the construction firm.
He was later assigned to decontaminate the residential areas of Fukushima’s Koriyama City in more than ten business trips between October 2015 and March 2016, according to Sasaki.
The firm also had the Vietnamese engaged in dismantling buildings in an exclusion zone in the Fukushima town of Kawamata, when it was still a restricted zone due to high levels of radiation.
|Wakana Kumagai, 7, visits the spot where her house, which was washed away by the tsunami, used to stand in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi prefecture March 11, 2012. Photo: Reuters|
Sasaki claimed that the trainee had no idea he would be doing the decontamination job in areas affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
“[The man’s claims] suggest that he might have been deceived and brought to Japan to conduct cleanup work,” Sasaki was quoted by Japan Times as saying.
The Japan Times said the Vietnamese left the company in November 2017 over health concerns, when his employer ignored requests to have the situation explained.
The newspaper added that it has proof showing the man had been exposed to radiation while working in Kawamata.
Japan’s Nikkei daily reported on Tuesday that the construction firm in question has denied claims that it violated labor laws as accused by the Zentoitsu Workers Union.
The company also asserted that the Vietnamese trainee had been assigned the same non-risk tasks as his Japanese coworkers.
According to the union, the man’s monthly wage was only about ¥140,000 (roughly US$1,300), nearly three times lower than that of Japanese workers doing similar cleanup work.
The union is helping the Vietnamese in negotiations with the firm, and seeking compensation worth the amount that would have been paid for his unfulfilled time of the contract.
The Japanese justice ministry has confirmed through telephone to Japan Times that it was looking into the case, verifying such claims as the Vietnamese was given duties different from what were described in his contract.
The construction firm will face penalties if found guilty of breaching labor laws.
|View of some of the damage caused by the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. Photo: Reuters|
The ministry representative noted that the labor laws do not ban foreign workers from working at decontamination sites, and Japanese employers are legally allowed to send foreign technical trainees to the work.
However, the Vietnamese in this case was a trainee of a vocational training program, which has little to do with radiation cleanup.
“It’s hard to imagine that a trainee could use decontamination work experience in his or her home,” the official told Japan Times.