power – strom und macht

The Worst Possible Scenario

Susanne Gerber


Remember the guy who pointed his finger at the Fuku I Livecam and later announced his intentions in not-so-comprehensible English? Here’s a rough translation of his reasons why he did what he did from the original Japanese, which I hope is a bit more clear. His concerns are very legitimate, but to this day I haven’t seen any news of TEPCO or the government looking into them other than superficial lip service that they will do so. He says he pointed his finger not only at TEPCO and the government, but also to the viewers who would watch the video, live or recorded, on the Internet, and to himself who would watch it on his smartphone.

„I would like to request that TEPCO and the government improve in a tangible way how they contract work to subcontractors and how they monitor the employment situation. As has been much reported, some workers have been forced to work here by the outlaw element [i.e. „yakuza“ or the Japanese mafia]. Such workers are disguised as being employed by legitimate contractors but have to accept an unfair or severe employment conditions. Sometimes even the legitimate contractors who post recruitment information at employment Offices don’t know who their workers‘ true contractors are. The excessive multi-layered subcontracting leads to various problems such as lower wages, no insurance, and no contract document, as has been reported. In addition, I would like to share a few stories from my own experience. At the inn where I stayed, there were days when I could not sleep during the daytime before my nighttime shift, because my roommates‘ work shifts are different. Before work, the workers had to fill in the form to declare their health condition. On one of such sleep-starved days, I honestly declared that I had slept for 4 hours. But while I was looking away, one of my seniors rewrote it to 6 hours. I assume it was because workers who were not capable of managing their own health would put a bad face on the company. There is another problem. Even if we only worked for the prescribed hours, we had to spend huge amount of extra time taking care of the newcomers and registering them. Therefore, we sometimes ended up working or driving a car with only 1 or 2 hours of sleep. The subcontractors are competing with each other for more work and trying to show how much they could do even if they have to strain their workers a little. The contractors would benefit from the low-cost, high-efficiency work. However, by the very nature of the whole setup, minor troubles or problems will not be reported to the higher hierarchy. They are causing negative effects everywhere, and I am worried that they might eventually lead to a serious accident. Even if the TEPCO people were asked about subcontractors and workers at the press conference, all they could answer might be „we will investigate the matter“ or „we will ask our affiliate companies not to do such things.“ And they probably would not receive any meaningful reports anyway. The more mult-layered the subcontracting structure becomes, inconvenient facts get filtered out as the report goes from one layer to the layer above. It is not just the matter of subcontractors not reporting the situation. I don’t think this problem will be solved if they hold individual workers or individual affiliate companies accountable. Threatening the subcontractors will not result in safety. This is the lesson we must learn from the JR Fukuchiyama-Line’s derailment accident in 2005. The plant workers are in a weak position. They should be liberated from the severe situation where they have to hide their overwork. They are already overwhelmed by their sense of mission to put an end to this catastrophe for the sake of many people. They should not be burdened with additional pressure in the forms of bad working conditions and employment insecurity. I believe this problem should be addressed comprehensively as a problem of the employment system at the plant as a whole. I wish TEPCO would employ all workers directly, but if that is impossible, how about at least keeping complete track of all the workers‘ contract conditions by making all the subcontractors issue written contract documents? (I myself did not get any contract document.)
How about examining such contract documents and checking whether proper wages and insurance coverage are guaranteed, whether enough number of stand-by workers are reserved, and how work shifts, number of workers, and holidays are scheduled? The original purpose of subcontracting is to have the subcontractors carry out the specialized tasks that the parent company doesn’t have expertise on; the subcontracting should not be about skirting responsibility by dumping the normal management work on the subcontractors. There’s no predicting the final outcome, but I consider the current situation at the plant as one that has somehow managed to escape the worst possible scenario. I think it is important at the site of such an accident to prevent human errors caused by insufficient care about management work and workers. At the plant site, many cheering messages from children, posters, banners, faxes, photocopies of emails, strings of „thousand origami cranes“ from all over the country are displayed on the walls. Please make sure those voices will not turn into the voices that impose harsh self-sacrifice on the workers. Also, the fact that I was able to carry out my action without being stopped shows anyone who is dissatisfied with the current situation can go inside and do whatever he wants. I don’t think this can be prevented by strengthening security or strictly controlling the workers. I believe a much better way is to improve employment conditions to a decent level so that no worker gets frustrated. I personally would like the press to continue to gather information on the working conditions at the nuclear plant and ask about it at the press conference.“


Filed under: Consequences, Fukushima, Resistance

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