Uh... what does that mean, you may ask?
And why is TEPCO apologizing? Because, apparently, TEPCO's announcement that the company would double the risk benefit for the workers hired by the subcontractors to work at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant from 10,000 yen a day to 20,000 yen a day has caused anxiety and confusion among TEPCO's primary contractors and subcontractors.
Why are TEPCO's primary contractors (1st tier) and subcontractors (and subcontractors of the subcontractors... to the nth degree) anxious and confused? Because the workers they hire now knows how much TEPCO is paying the primary contractors and can compare it to what they actually receive.
The article below is by Mainichi English on January 5, 2014, translated from the Japanese article on the previous day. The title, "TEPCO allows contractors to dip into 'labor fund' increase", is very unclear.
The original Japanese title for the article is:
which I started to translate (till I found Mainichi's own English translation) as:
TEPCO allows "taking a cut" of the daily wages for the workers at Fukushima I Nuke Plant, TEPCO's letter to the prime contractors reveals
It's about "skimming", as Reuters' article on December 19, 2013 made abundantly clear.
From Mainichi English (1/5/2014; emphasis is mine):
TEPCO allows contractors to dip into 'labor fund' increase
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), after announcing last November that "labor funds" would be increased for contract work on the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, told contractors that not all the money had to go to wage increases, effectively reneging on its earlier announcement, it has been learned.
When contracting out work, in addition to base money for wages, TEPCO sets aside extra funds to pay workers at the plant based on radiation exposure and the type of work they do. However, until a Nov. 8 announcement the company had not revealed exact numbers, saying that doing so would "affect future contracts and bids." This was criticized as encouraging contractors and subcontractors to dip into the labor funds.
When TEPCO announced "emergency safety measures" for the Fukushima plant on Nov. 8 last year, it revealed that until then it had been setting aside 10,000 yen of these extra funds per worker. In order to improve workers' wages, however, the utility said it would increase this amount by another 10,000 yen per day starting with work contracted the following month. This was also clearly indicated in documents the company distributed to contractors.
TEPCO president Naomi Hirose said at a press conference, "I ask that prime contractors thoroughly enact (wage improvements). Workers will be aware of the 10,000 yen increase, so we ask that contractors follow through."
However, on Nov. 29, TEPCO sent a message to its contractors in the name of the chief of its supplies division. The message concerned the Nov. 8 announcement, and apologized that "the measure had not been understood correctly, bringing confusion to our business partners." It read that the increase of 10,000 yen was "for making efforts to improve workers' wages" but "does not mean that the amount (paid to workers) will be increased by 10,000 yen."
A representative of TEPCO's PR department told the Mainichi Shimbun, "The wages paid to workers are decided in contracts made between workers and subcontractors, so we explained that the labor funds we set and the actual wages paid to workers are different." Furthermore, the PR official said the increase of 10,000 to 20,000 yen in daily extra labor funds was "introduced as a representative case, but the actual amount could be lower." The official would not discuss the actual amount of increases made because it was "a contract matter."
The Nov. 8 announcement had been reported as a "doubling" of payments to workers by a local paper. One worker who works at the Fukushima plant said, "Some subcontractors have properly increased wages and others haven't, creating a stronger feeling of unfairness amongst those on-site. These TEPCO documents could lower the morale of the workers."
To be fair, TEPCO's President Naomi Hirose did say in the November 8, 2013 press conference that adding 10,000 yen to the existing 10,000 yen daily risk benefit would not mean all workers hired by the subcontractors would now receive 10,000 yen more per day. He emphasized that TEPCO would pay the prime contractors (top-tier subcontractors) additional 10,000 yen per day per worker. How the money was to be distributed down the subcontracting pyramid would not be TEPCO's responsibility but the prime contractors' and subcontractors' responsibility, Hirose said.
"Sunny", one of the workers who have been tweeting from Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, is angrily calling the contractors unethical in his tweet:
President of the electric power company [TEPCO] says he is paying more, but the workers at the bottom [of the subcontracting pyramid] are not receiving it. Taxpayers' money is being used [to restore the plant] but the money to the workers disappear because of "circumstances at the companies". This is beyond the level of being problematic; it is the corporate ethics problem. Those companies that still won't pay the workers should be screened out.
Mainichi's original Japanese article has a diagram that shows how the skimming is done (English labels are by me):
From what I sometimes hear, though, this is what actually happens, in some cases: "Oh you want more risk benefit? OK, here you are. Oh by the way your regular pay will be reduced."
According to anecdotal stories in the press in the past, there are workers at the plant with no risk benefit; the benefit has been all skimmed off by the layers of subcontractors before it reaches the workers.
When this additional 10,000 yen risk benefit was announced in November last year, both "Sunny" and "Happy" (who is leaving the plant) were hoping that the national government, who claims to be "in charge" of restoring the plant, would make this additional money go directly to all contract workers. Well that didn't happen, and is not likely to happen.
Just like in late March 2011, when it comes to treating the workers who work at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, it is a private company's problem, not the government's problem, whether it is under DPJ or LDP. So sorry to hear that the workers have little to eat and drink at the plant, but no we're not going to do anything because it is TEPCO's problem, said an elite career bureaucrat at Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. My jaw dropped when I watched him say so in the press conference.