Fukushima contractor denies claims its staff concealed work terms

TOKYO Tue Dec 10, 2013 9:19am EST

Workers wearing protective suits and masks work on a crane for a transport container inside the No. 4 reactor building at the tsunami-crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture November 7, 2013. REUTERS/Kimimasa Mayama/Pool

Workers wearing protective suits and masks work on a crane for a transport container inside the No. 4 reactor building at the tsunami-crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture November 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kimimasa Mayama/Pool

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TOKYO (Reuters) - A construction firm involved in the clean-up at the Fukushima nuclear plant said it employed a worker who brought a complaint to labor regulators, but never instructed its staff to conceal the terms of their work arrangements, as he claimed.

Tec, a privately-held company based in Chiba near Tokyo, said it employed Yoshitatsu Uechi, a mechanic and former bus driver, who was one of 17 workers who went to work in Fukushima in June 2012.

Uechi and other workers in that group from Okinawa said they had been recruited by Token Kogyo, an unregistered broker, and passed on to work under the direction of Tec, which reported to Taisei Corp (1801.T), according to Uechi and other workers.

In September of this year, Okinawa labor regulators sanctioned Token Kogyo after investigating a complaint by Uechi and concluding the broker improperly sent workers to Fukushima.

Last week, Reuters reported on the experience of Okinawa workers based on interviews with Uechi, others in the group, labor regulators and a review of work-related and bank records. [ID:nL4N0JH0FO] At the time, Tec declined to comment.

At Fukushima, Uechi said the Okinawa workers were told by a Tec supervisor to lie to the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (9501.T), and to say they had been employed directly by Tec.

Japanese labor law bars brokers from hiring workers and dispatching them to work under the management of another company in order to protect workers from having their wages skimmed and to clarify who is responsible for their employment.

In a statement to Reuters, Tec said it employed Uechi, but had not asked any of its workers to conceal the nature of their work arrangements at Fukushima.

"It is not true that we have ever asked any of our employees to submit a false report to Taisei," Tec said. "Our subcontractors answer surveys about their employment status by registering the names of the companies for which they work."

Tec declined to comment on Uechi's claims about irregularities in his pay for the early part of his 6-month stint working at the nuclear plant where he and others built bolted water-storage tanks.

Storage tanks of that kind were found to be failing in August and spilled almost 80,000 gallons of radioactive water. Uechi and other workers said they had been rushed in the construction and sometimes applied caulking on rainy days when it would not seal properly.

Tec described Uechi's comments on the possibility for rain causing the caulking in the tanks to fail as a "personal opinion." The company said it had not engaged Uechi to work in building the storage tanks.

Uechi said that early this year, after he had left Fukushima, Tec Chairman Yasushi Ogawa visited Okinawa and handed him 1 million yen ($9,800) in cash. Ogawa said this was for "unpaid wages and compensation," Uechi said. In its response, Tec said no such explanation had been made.

(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Ian Geoghegan)

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