Japan needs workers. It is the world’s oldest society, with a quarter of its population over the age of 65. By 2060, an estimated 40 percent of the population will be seniors, with 27 percent over age 75.
To augment the workforce and take care of all those older people, the country is bringing in immigrants to perform service sector jobs. It’s also issuing “technical intern visas” to more skilled workers who can perform factory and construction work. Oh, and nuclear cleanup work. Although, the workers may not have known that’s what they were doing. No one thought to tell them.
A number of workers in the government’s foreign technical trainee program have been assigned jobs at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which continues to leak radiation seven years after a tsunami and earthquake caused the reactor to meltdown.
The workers are in the foreign trainee program, which is designed to share skills and expertise that the interns can bring back to help their home countries. However, the program is under fire after a number of incidents revealed that companies that contract with the government to use these workers are exploiting the program to obtain cheap labor, sometimes for dangerous tasks.
The workers in this situation came from Vietnam, which does not have a nuclear program. They were involved in decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture, including the construction of an on-site incinerator that will be used to destroy contaminated protective clothing and other materials.
Allegedly, they were not required to wear protective gear and had not been told of the potential hazards. The workers were employed by a subcontractor of Tokyo-based Hazama Ando Corp and worked at the plant from 2016 to late April 2018, despite Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s ban on such dispatches.
The president of Hazama Ando said, “Japanese youngsters quit easily but foreigners stick with us because they borrow heavily to come to Japan and cannot go home at least for three years,” a requirement for technical intern trainees. In other words, they are trapped. When they began the assignment, they were told that they would be working on “formwork installation and reinforcing steel placements,” with no information about where this project would take place.