By Antoni Slodkowski
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese labor regulators have sanctioned a construction firm involved in the decommissioning of the Fukushima nuclear power plant for improperly employing workers to repair another nuclear plant, also damaged by the 2011 earthquake.
ABL Co Ltd, based in Okuma, where the Fukushima plant is located, managed at least eight workers who had been supplied illegally by several layers of subcontractors for inspection and repair work at the Tokai Daini nuclear plant, which is managed by Japan Atomic Power Co, officials said.
The practice of having workers hired by a broker but managed by another company is banned under Japanese law to protect workers from having their wages skimmed and to clarify who is responsible for their safety.
The rare public sanction - there were only 24 such business improvement orders issued in Japan in the year to March 2013 for labor violations - covered July-December 2011, when ABL was found to have improperly employed the workers at the Tokai plant.
In October, Reuters reported the account of Tetsuya Hayashi, a former nuclear worker, who said he was recruited by a labor broker for a job at the Fukushima plant where ABL was a subcontractor to Tokyo Energy & Systems Inc. Tokyo Energy is a first-tier contractor under Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator of the Fukushima plant.
The Tokai plant, 110 kms (68 miles) northeast of Tokyo, automatically shut down in the March 2011 earthquake. Its turbines and other equipment were damaged, and repair work continued into 2012.
ABL said it did not dispute that it improperly employed workers at Tokai, and said it was asking regulators to inspect its operations again to verify it had tightened its compliance practices. "We were not aware these workers were employed by multiple layers of subcontractors. Our awareness was low," said Osamu Watanabe, general manager at ABL.
Takeshi Iwami, an inspector at the Fukushima Labor Standards Office, said ABL should have better understood the rules. "These were all very basic things they should have been fully aware of as an experienced contractor," he said.
Fukushima labor regulators said they were still investigating Hayashi's complaint. ABL, which employs about 200 workers in decommissioning the Fukushima plant, declined to comment on the former worker's claims.
Tokyo Electric, or Tepco, has promised to improve working conditions at the Fukushima plant.
(Editing by Ian Geoghegan)