Published: 12/04/2011

Unions have long contended that precarious workers have higher rates of accidents, injuries and illness on the job. Precarious work is also the hidden underside of the Japanese nuclear power industry, where contract workers have an average level of radiation exposure 16 times that of the small layer of permanent workers.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, 88 percent of all those employed in the industry are contract workers, with the level rising to 89 percent at the stricken Fukishima Daiichi plant.

Contract workers interviewed for the article described permanent anxiety over losing their jobs and feeing forced to conceal injuries from the employers who organize the chains of contract and subcontracted labour. A 64-year-old worker tells of “Climbing into the spent-fuel pool of the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant during an annual maintenance shutdown in the 1980s to scrub the walls clean of radiation with brushes and rags.” He rarely lasted twenty minutes.

Yuko Fujita, a former physics professor and campaigner for improved labor conditions in the nuclear industry quoted in the article, says “Wherever there are hazardous conditions, these laborers are told to go. It is dangerous for them, and it is dangerous for nuclear safety.”