Hi Blog. Next article in this series this week, on the failed policy on “Trainees”, who according to the Asahi pay Unemployment Insurance yet don’t qualify, moreover don’t even qualify for the Nikkei Repatriation Bribe because they have the wrong blood… Debito
More foreign trainees, interns face dismissal
BY YUSAKU YAMANE AND HIROYUKI KOMURO
IHT/Asahi: May 20,2009, Courtesy of Dave Spector
Once in high demand among small-business owners as an inexpensive labor force, foreign trainees and technical interns are feeling the chill amid the current economic downturn.
They increasingly face risks of dismissal midway through a three-year program ostensibly aimed at training workers from developing countries.
During the five months until February, more than 1,500 trainees and interns returned to their countries without spending the full three years here.
Most are believed to have left their positions involuntarily and have subsequently been unable to find new work. One such case even ended up in court.
These difficulties highlight the program’s lack of a sufficient safety net. Interns are required to pay for unemployment insurance, but they often find it hard to receive benefits.
As of 2007, nearly 200,000 people were here under the Industrial Training and Technical Internship Program, set up by the government in 1993 as a way to contribute internationally.
But the recent rash of dismissals, on top of other problems, has embittered many.
Two technical interns from China, who were fired by a scrap metal exporter in Tokyo last year, on May 1 filed a suit under the Labor Trial Law against their former employer. They alleged that the employer forced them to work under harsh conditions.
“We could never return home as it is,” said Ding Jianhui and Lin Weihong, telling of their hardships and their sudden dismissal late last year.
The two men, both 35, worked as welders in China but applied to the program to learn advanced Japanese welding techniques.
They arrived in Tokyo in September 2006 to find their job was to disassemble home appliances day after day. Their “home” was a container on Tokyo Bay that concurrently served as their work place.
They were also forced to operate a power shovel without a license, having been told that “you’ll have go back to China if you don’t do it,” according to the two men.
“I knew I’d been taken in, but I had to put up with it because I’d borrowed 40,000 yuan (about 570,000 yen) from friends and relatives to come to Japan,” Ding said.
In the first year of the three-year program, participants are treated as trainees, and in the second and third years, they work as interns, a position subject to labor law protections.
In their first year, Ding and Lin were paid a “training allowance” of only 70,000 yen a month even though they were required to work on weekends.
In the second year, their base pay was raised to 130,000 yen, but suddenly the workload plummeted last fall.
They were fired at the year-end, without the prospect of another job.
Learning they were to be sent back to China, the men fled, staying with acquaintances and at shelters for the homeless.
With the help of a labor union that supports interns like them, they asked the company to give them their jobs back. But the firm refused.
In a suit filed with the Tokyo District Court, Ding and Lin are demanding that the company rescind their dismissals and pay 9.8 million yen in unpaid wages and damages.
Trainees and interns usually work on a one-year contract, renewable for three years. But most come to Japan on the premise they will work for three years.
They were initially a coveted labor force for smaller businesses and farmers facing a shortage of workers. But the global recession turned things around.
According to the Justice Ministry, 114 cut short their stay and returned to their home countries in October. The number rose to 495 in February.
Many borrowed money to get to Japan. Returning midway could leave them with debts they are unable to repay.
Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer well-versed on the issue, said, “It amounts to an abuse of the right of dismissal to unilaterally fire them midway without reasonable grounds.”
According to Zhen Kai, who gives advice to foreign trainees and interns at the Gifu Ippan Rodo Kumiai, a Gifu-based labor union for workers at small businesses, an increasing number of interns are refusing to be let go before the end of their three-year stints.
They remain at corporate dormitories without pay while negotiating with their employers to have their dismissals reversed.
“The situation is grave,” Zhen said.
Canceling a worker’s training or internship in the middle is allowed only when a business goes bankrupt or is in serious trouble.
Because of visa restrictions, interns technically work under an arrangement with organizations, such as local chambers of commerce and industry, that accept them for member companies.
This means that if fired at the midpoint in their training, they are not eligible to work for ordinary companies or receive new job information at Hello Work public job placement centers.
While a Justice Ministry guideline urges groups and businesses to find new jobs for their dismissed interns, in practice help is rare.
The Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO) is a group that offers support for the program. But it received only 20 requests for help in finding new internship positions between November and March.
Most of those forced to return home apparently did not receive unemployment benefits even though they had paid premiums for six months or longer and were eligible for coverage.
Kiyoteru Hasegawa, chairman of the Nihon Rodo Hyogikai, a labor group that supports foreign trainees and interns, said Japan’s safety net is too unkind to such interns.
For foreign interns to receive unemployment benefits, a Hello Work center must officially recognize that they are actively looking for a job–even though the center can provide no job information to them.
“In fact, no interpreters are on hand at many Hello Work centers, and it takes time for benefit payments to start,” Hasegawa said.
“In reality, they have no choice but to leave without receiving benefits even though they paid into the program.”
The program is under review at the current Diet session. Lawmakers hope to better protect trainees, who are not currently regarded as “workers” subject to labor laws.
But a change, if any, would not give relief to those who have already lost their jobs.
Yasushi Iguchi, a professor of labor economics at Kwansei Gakuin University, said such dismissals would not just disappoint interns but hurt their countries’ trust in Japan as well.
“The government should help them find new positions and produce a guideline for compensation so interns would not have to just give up silently,” he said.(IHT/Asahi: May 20,2009)