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Hi Blog. When Debito.org last seriously talked about the issue of Japan’s foreign “Trainees” (i.e. NJ brought over by the GOJ who are allegedly “in occupational training”, therefore not qualifying as “workers” entitled to labor law protections), it was back in July 2010, when news broke about the death of 27 of them in 2009. The news to me was that it was only the SECOND worst casualty rate on record. Even more scandalous was that about a third of the total dead NJ (as in eight) had died of, quote, “unknown causes” (as if that’s a sufficient explanation; don’t they have autopsies in Japan to fix that? Oh wait, not always.). Kyodo News back then lazily (or rather, ignorantly) observed how problematic the system has been, stating that “a number of irregular practices have recently been observed, such as having foreign trainees work for long hours with below-minimum wages”. Hardly “recent” even back then: Despite years of calls to fix or abolish the program entirely, with official condemnations in 2006 of it as “a swindle“, and the UN in 2010 essentially calling it slavery (see below), it was still causing deaths at the rate of two or three NJ a month. (The irony was that karoushi (death from overwork) was a big media event when Japanese were dying of it. Clearly less so when NJ die.)
Now sit down for this news: The GOJ is seeking not to reform the “Trainee” system, but rather to EXPAND it. As the article indicates below, we’ve gotta get more cheap, disposable, and ultimately expendable foreigners to build our Tokyo Olympics in time for 2020. And then we can round them up once their visas expire and deport them (that is, if they’re still alive), like we did back in Nagano for the 1998 Olympics.
This is precisely the type of exploitative capitalism that creates Marxists. But again, who in Japan empathizes with NJ workers? They’re only here to earn money and then go home, right? So they deserve to be exploited, runs the common national narrative. And under that discourse, no matter how bad it gets for them (and so far it really, really has), no amount of domestic or international condemnation will stop it. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
Japan moves to expand controversial foreign worker scheme
BY ANTONI SLODKOWSKI
REUTERS, APR 2, 2014
Japan is considering expanding a controversial program that now offers workers from China and elsewhere permits to work for up to three years, as the world’s fastest-aging nation scrambles to plug gaps in a rapidly shrinking workforce.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday submitted a proposal to let workers to stay for up to five years, relax hiring rules for employers and boost the number of jobs open to them.
“We will strengthen the governance of the program,” LDP lawmaker Yasuhisa Shiozaki, who authored the proposal, told reporters. “We are aware of the concerns and we allowed people who had objections to voice their objections.”
Shiozaki said the LDP wanted to see harsher penalties for companies that abused foreign workers and would use external inspectors and local governments to monitor compliance.
The program, started in 1993, sponsors around 150,000 workers, mostly Chinese, for jobs in areas such as the garment industry and farms.
In theory, the foreign workers come to Japan as trainees to acquire technical expertise, but lawyers and labor activists say many face abuse, from illegally low wages to the confiscation of their passports.
Such conditions “may well amount to slavery,” the United Nations said in 2010, and called on Tokyo to scrap the program.
But Japan is desperate for more workers, especially in industries such as construction and farming. With just under half its population expected to be aged 65 or older by 2060, Japan faces a severe labor shortage that promises to hamper Abe’s ambitious economic revival plans.
Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer who has represented foreign workers based in Tokyo, said the proposed safeguards would not go far enough and urged the government to abolish, rather than expand, the program.
“The workers can’t freely choose their workplace after coming to Japan. They are refused the right to sign and cancel contracts, so they have no freedom as laborers,” said Ibusuki.
“If you don’t fix this structural problem, it doesn’t matter how much you tighten regulations, it won’t go away,” he said.
Nearly 200 companies were found to have mistreated trainees in 2012, a jump of 21 percent from two years earlier, government data show. There were 90 cases of failure to pay legal wages and more than 170 cases of violations of labor regulations.
The shortage of workers is most acute in the construction industry, whose workforce has shrunk by a third from 1997, when public works peaked. By 2010, about a fifth of all construction workers were older than 60.
The lack of workers has left construction companies struggling to meet demand for new projects tied to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and reconstruction work in areas destroyed by the 2011 tsunami.
Shiozaki said two government panels reporting to Abe will discuss the proposal and consider it as part of a growth strategy to be announced in June.
Foreign-born workers make up less than 1.3 percent of the workforce, according to the 2010 census.