The scourge of companies subcontracting labor in order to maximize profit continues. Tokyo Electric Power Company runs the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor. Rather than employ the cleanup workers itself, it is relying on subcontractors that, not surprisingly, cut corners on such things as keeping workers safe.
Most workers inside the plant are contract laborers hired by multiple layers of construction companies. A Reuters investigation last year found widespread labor abuses, where workers said their pay was skimmed and there was little scrutiny over working conditions inside the plant.
Tepco on Friday would not name the worker’s direct employer, but said he reported up to Toso Fudosan Kanri Company, a first-tier contractor under Tepco. The worker was in his 50s, the utility said.
The company confirmed it had hired the worker through another subcontractor.
Tepco has been widely criticized for its handling of the cleanup. The operator was plagued by a series of leaks of radioactive water from hastily built tanks at the site last year and it has repeatedly promised to improve working conditions.
Of course not using subcontractors would probably be the best idea for improving those working conditions.
I’ll also note that when I write these subcontracting posts, commenters inevitably start talking about the benefits of subcontracting since why should every company have its own IT staff. A couple points here to hopefully reduce this kind of thing. First, during the greatest time of economic growth in American history, subcontracting barely existed. It’s not as if you need subcontracting in order to have a successful business model. Second, there may well be times when you can subcontract and have it make sense, such as IT. However, is there any good reason why we should allow subcontracting where the workers labor for less pay, benefits, and safety precautions than directly employed workers? No. There is not. Third, those who defend subcontracting on principle are sort of missing what’s important here. Or at least, for me keeping workers safe and making living wages is more important than a streamlined business process that concentrates wealth at the top. Maybe that’s not everyone’s priority, I don’t know. Once we get to the point where there’s a bill before Congress to ban subcontracting, we can start worrying about the exceptions that make sense. For now, I’m not going to worry too much about the concerns of business.