Business, Finance & Economics

Japan's homeless are being recruited to clean up the radioactive debris at Fukushima

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Shizuya Nishiyama, a 57-year-old homeless man from Hokkaido. Nishiyama says he briefly worked for Shuto, a firm with Fukushima decontamination contracts, clearing rubble. He now sleeps on a cardboard box in Sendai Station. He says he left after a dispute over wages.

Credit:

REUTERS/Issei Kato

Cleaning up radioactive waste in Fukushima may be one of the worst jobs in Japan. Clean-up of the site has fallen behind schedule and finding workers has been a challenge. Now it turns out, the homeless are among those being recruited for the job.

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Antoni Slodkowski, one of the reporters who uncovered the story for Reuters News Service, met one of the recruiters, Seji Sasa.

Slodkowski said Sasa wakes up at 3:00 a.m. every morning and makes his way around the Sendai Station in northern Japanese city of Sendai. 

“He knows everyone's name; knows the police officer's schedules; and he also knows where the homeless sleep. He is there on a mission:  to recruit workers to clean up after Fukushima's nuclear disaster,” Slodkowski said.

Sasa used to be a wrestling promoter. But now he makes money off the homeless people whom he recruits for various contracting companies involved in the government-funded clean up.

He is paid $100 for each recruit. 

Slodkowski said that while giving homeless people work is a good thing, but that it becomes a problem when the men have no contract and work under vulnerable conditions.

“So if their employer decides to skim their wages or charge them exorbitant amounts of money for food, for heating, for coffee, for cigarettes, for whatever, very often, they don't get paid in advance, or they don't get paid weekly, but they sometimes get paid in 45 day instalments and these people have very little or nothing,” he said.

Moreover, he said, the homeless workers were often housed by gangsters in very crowded apartments with almost no personal space whatsoever.

Slodkowski said the reason why gangsters and organized crime got mixed up in the Fukushima clean-up process was because the law regulating clean-up is very loose and does not require any scrutiny.

“The subcontracting networks are not scrutinized at all and so that's how the small scale gangsters preying on the most vulnerable get involved,” he said.

Additionally, homeless people are being recruited for the clean-up because it has been difficult finding workers willing to take the low-paying, high risk, clean up jobs.

"People realize that if they are going to work in these kinds of companies under these kinds of conditions, they are not going to make much money, and this is partly why the clean-up is already at-least three years behind schedule."

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    Homeless men snuggle in sleeping bags at an underground passage near Sendai Station in Sendai, northern Japan. The men are recruited to clean nuclear waste at Fukushima.

    Credit:

    REUTERS/Issei Kato

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    The signboard of Sendai Station is seen under the moonlight in Sendai, northern Japan, December 17, 2013. Recruiters for firms with Fukushima decontamination contracts often prowl the station, seeking people 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. The cleanup effort is being dogged by both a lack of oversight and a shortage of workers, according to a Reuters analysis. Below the subcontractors, a shadowy network of gangsters and illegal brokers who hire homeless men has also become active in Fukushima. Ministry of Environment contracts in the most radioactive areas of Fukushima prefecture are particularly lucrative because the government pays an additional $100 in hazard allowance per day for each worker.

    Credit:

    REUTERS/Issei Kato

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    A homeless man snuggles in a sleeping bag on a bench at an underground passage near Sendai Station in Sendai, northern Japan, December 17, 2013.

    Credit:

    REUTERS/Issei Kato

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    Plastic bags containing belongings of homeless men are placed on a signpost at an underground passage near Sendai Station in Sendai, northern Japan, December 17, 2013.

    Credit:

    REUTERS/Issei Kato

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    Shizuya Nishiyama (R), a 57-year-old homeless man from Hokkaido, and an another homeless man sleep on the ground as a passerby walks past at a concourse of Sendai Station in Sendai, northern Japan, December 17, 2013.

    Credit:

    REUTERS/Issei Kato

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    Shizuya Nishiyama, a 57-year-old homeless man from Hokkaido, rests on a bench at a park near Sendai Station in Sendai, northern Japan, December 18, 2013.

    Credit:

    REUTERS/Issei Kato

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    A sign board for recruitment is displayed at Shuto Kogyo's dormitory for workers as snow falls in Tome, Miyagi prefecture, December 20, 2013.

    Credit:

    REUTERS/Antoni Slodkowski

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    Workers' boots are seen through a window at Shuto Kogyo's dormitory for workers in Tome, Miyagi prefecture, December 20, 2013.

    Credit:

    REUTERS/Antoni Slodkowski

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    Seiji Sasa, a 67-year-old former professional wrestling promoter, speaks during an interview with Reuters at his home in Sendai, northern Japan, December 18, 2013. Sasa was photographed by undercover police recruiting homeless men at the Sendai train station to work in the nuclear cleanup. "I don't ask questions; that's not my job," Sasa said 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."

    Credit:

    REUTERS/Issei Kato

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    Shizuya Nishiyama, a 57-year-old homeless man from Hokkaido, shows a notebook for radioactive exposure management for workers involved in the cleanup of areas affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster at Sendai Station in Sendai, northern Japan, December 18, 2013.

    Credit:

    REUTERS/Issei Kato

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    A homeless man rests on the ground at a concourse of Sendai Station in Sendai, northern Japan, December 17, 2013.

    Credit:

    REUTERS/Issei Kato