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Fukushima: TEPCO sued for $868,000 in unpaid ‘danger money’

Published time: September 02, 2014 14:17
Workers conduct operations to construct an underground ice wall at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (Tepco) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture.(Reuters / Kimimasa Mayama)

Workers conduct operations to construct an underground ice wall at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (Tepco) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture.(Reuters / Kimimasa Mayama)

Four subcontractors, working to decommission the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, are suing the Tokyo Electric Power Company, in the first-ever such case, saying they were never compensated for working in the radioactive area.

According to Japanese media, the lawsuit is demanding the utility company pay a total of ¥91.4 million ($868,000) in “dangerous-work” benefits.

The four male workers, aged between 34 and 65, have been employed since May 2011 to remove radioactive debris at reactor 3 and to patrol tanks containing highly radioactive water. Two of the four men are currently working for the subcontractor at the nuclear plant.

The plaintiffs claim the subcontractor, their direct employer, orally explained that the dangerous-work benefits would be paid – but only one of the workers was paid a small amount, the attorney representing the men said on Monday.

In March 2011, a massive tsunami triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, crashed into the plant on Japan’s northeastern coast, sending reactors into meltdown and contaminating a wide area.

“My health may be harmed someday…I believe there are many people who can’t speak out about this kind of (underpaying) problem,” one of the workers told Japan’s public broadcaster NHK.

“I may get fired or may be given no further work. But I hope people will take this as an opportunity to speak up and get paid,” he added.

This isn’t the first time TEPCO has been hit with a lawsuit, after being accused of mishandling much of the crisis. In a landmark court ruling last week, TEPCO was forced to pay almost $500,000 to a widower after his wife committed suicide by dousing herself in gasoline and setting herself on fire – blaming the disaster for her suicide.

Criticism of TEPCO’s mishandling of the clean-up has extended to evidence of homeless people working without compensation, and the Yakuza mafia funneling money destined for TEPCO’s subcontractors.

In a press conference on Monday, attorney Tsuguo Hirota, said TEPCO is liable for the payment as it “was responsible to supervise the subcontractors so that the dangerous-work benefit was paid to all workers, but it didn’t.” He added that he wants to bring to light how workers are exploited by TEPCO’s subcontractors.

A TEPCO representative said: “We haven’t received the petition documents and don’t know the details (of the suit), but would like to deal with it appropriately after we learn about their demands and what they are saying.”