Ja­panese firms used for­eign trainees at Fukushima clean-up


Four Ja­panese com­pa­nies made for­eign trainees who were in the coun­try to learn pro­fes­sional skills take part in de­con­tam­i­na­tion work af­ter the Fukushima nu­clear dis­as­ter, the gov­ern­ment said yes­ter­day.

The dis­cov­ery is likely to re­vive crit­i­cism of the for­eign trainee pro­gramme, which has been ac­cused of plac­ing work­ers in sub­stan­dard con­di­tions and jobs that pro­vide few op­por­tu­ni­ties for learn­ing.

The misconduct was un­cov­ered in a probe by the Jus­tice Min­istry con­ducted af­ter three Viet­namese trainees were found in March to have par­tic­i­pated in cleanup work in Fukushima.

The Viet­namese were sup­posed to do work us­ing con­struc­tion ma­chines ac­cord­ing to plans sub­mit­ted by the com­pany.

“But they joined sim­ple cleanup work such as re­mov­ing soil with­out ma­chines,” an of­fi­cial said.

A pow­er­ful earthquake in March 2011 spawned a huge tsunami that led to melt­downs at the Fukushima nu­clear plant, caus­ing the world’s worst such ac­ci­dent since Ch­er­nobyl in 1986.

The jus­tice min­istry said af­ter the dis­cov­ery this March that de­con­tam­i­na­tion work was not ap­pro­pri­ate for for­eign trainees.

One of the four com­pa­nies has been slapped with a five-year ban on ac­cept­ing new for­eign trainees, and the min­istry is still in­ves­ti­gat­ing how many trainees in the other three firms were in­volved.

The min­istry has fin­ished its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into 182 con­struc­tion com­pa­nies that hire for­eign trainees, and will look into an­other 820 firms by the end of Septem­ber.

Ja­pan has been ac­cept­ing for­eign trainees un­der the gov­ern­ment pro­gramme since 1993 and there were just over 250,000 in the coun­try in late 2017.

But crit­ics say the trainees of­ten face poor work con­di­tions in­clud­ing ex­ces­sive hours and ha­rass­ment.

The num­ber of for­eign trainees who ran away from their em­ploy­ers jumped from 2,005 in 2012 to 7,089 in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the min­istry survey.

Many cited low pay as the main rea­son for run­ning away.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion comes as Ja­pan’s gov­ern­ment moves to bring more for­eign work­ers into the coun­try to tackle a labour short­age caused by the coun­try’s age­ing, shrinking pop­u­la­tion.

The gov­ern­ment in June said it wanted to create a new visa sta­tus to bring in for­eign work­ers, with pri­or­ity given to those look­ing for jobs in sec­tors such as agri­cul­ture that have been hard­est hit by the labour short­age.

The work­ers would be able to stay for up to five years, but would not be al­lowed to bring their fam­ily mem­bers.

The gov­ern­ment put the num­ber of for­eign work­ers in Ja­pan in 2017 at 1.28mn peo­ple.

But more than 450,000 of those are for­eign spouses of Ja­panese cit­i­zens, eth­nic Ko­re­ans long set­tled in Ja­pan, or for­eign­ers of Ja­panese de­scent, rather than work­ers com­ing to Ja­pan sim­ply for jobs.

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