TEPCO has been catching most of the flak for allegedly mishandling the response to the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant but its 50 or so employees who have been putting their lives at risk to contain the danger there have been rightly hailed as heroes. Now the Sunday papers remind us that they are not the only ones. According to this Yomiuri report, of the 160-man team who have been braving high-level radiation to connect the four at-risk generators to the grid in an attempt to revive their cooling systems, 50 have been dispatched by a kyōryoku kigyō, or “associate company.” If “associate company” sounds suspiciously like the “associates” in America—as far as I’m aware, business-speak to make employees feel more valued without having to pay them accordingly—you’re right. They’re the shitauke kigyō, or the subcontractors of old, who typically carried out the more kitsui, kitanai, and kiken—“Dirty, Dangerous and Demanding”—work at lower pay and with less job security. The report is not even clear whether all the operators dispatched by the associate company are its regular employees. There are several directions in which I could take this story—it’s actually of professional interest to me because the regular/irregular employee distinction is the most important part of the labor reform debate—but I have to break off for now.
Another Yomiuri report says that Minami-Sanrikuchō, the township where 8,000 out of 17,000 inhabitants remain unaccounted for one week into the crisis, appears to have had its entire family registry database wiped out by the tsunami. The backup files at the sub-regional offices of the Ministry of Justice were also lost in the deluge. So how are the survivors going to open bank accounts, obtain passports, and do all those other things that require a copy from the family registry? It’s a very small story within the national tragedy, and legacy systems yadyada but I can’t really find any excuse for a national system that’s still being siloed locally when storage is dirt-cheap and getting cheaper and e-government is now taking a hard look at cloud computing.