Almost a year after Japan pledged to double hazard pay at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, workers are still in the dark about how much extra they are getting paid, if anything, for cleaning up the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Under pressure to improve working conditions at Fukushima after a series of radioactive water leaks last year, Tokyo Electric Power Co President Naomi Hirose promised in November to double the hazard pay the utility allocates to its subcontractors for plant workers. That would have increased the amount each worker at the nuclear facility is supposed to earn to about $180 a day in hazard pay.
Only one of the more than three dozen workers interviewed by Reuters from July through September said he received the full hazard pay increase promised by Tepco. Some workers said they got nothing. In cases where payslips detailed a hazard allowance, the amounts ranged from $36 to about $90 a day – at best half of what Hirose promised.
In some instances, workers said they were told they would be paid a hazard bonus based on how much radiation they absorb – an incentive to take additional risks at a dangerous work site.
One worker interviewed by Reuters said he was told he would get an additional $45 per day every time he was in so-called "hot zones" near Reactors No. 1 and No. 2. Another worker was told he would receive an hourly rate that worked out to $4,500 extra in hazard pay for being exposed to the radiation limit for Japan's nuclear workers over a five-year period. And a third worker said he was told the payout for that same exposure would be $36,000.
Assessing how much Fukushima workers are being paid is complicated by Tepco's insistence that pay is a private matter for its contractors. The power utility, which runs Fukushima and has been nationalized, sits at the top of a contracting pyramid that includes construction giants such as Taisei. Tepco has declined to disclose details of any of its legal agreements with its subcontractors.
The top Tepco official at the plant conceded during a July press tour of the complex that he did not know how much of the increase in hazard pay was being disbursed. "When it comes to the pay rise, I don't have an exact understanding of how much money is getting directly to the workers," said Akira Ono, the Fukushima plant manager.
Tepco said in a statement to Reuters that it instructs subcontractors to ensure workers' pay is included in all contracts and it also asks companies working at the plant to submit documentation for all the subcontractors they use. The power utility said it had recently begun random checks of some of the smaller contractors to determine how much of the hazard pay is reaching workers. A worker who filled in a Tepco survey told Reuters in September that one of the questions was directly related to hazard pay.