Numerous foreign trainees forced to work under harsh conditions in Japan
(Mainichi Japan) August 30, 2009, Courtesy of JK
Numerous foreign vocational trainees are being forced to work under harsh conditions in Japan, such as illegally low wages and excessive overtime.
The bereaved family of a Chinese man who died during vocational training in Japan filed for workers’ compensation on Aug. 7, claiming he died from overwork. It was the first case in which the bereaved family of a vocational trainee is seeking work-related accident compensation.
Revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law that were passed into law in July call for stepped up protection of foreign trainees. However, organizations supporting foreign trainees are urging that the system be reviewed, claiming that excessive workloads are infringing on their personal rights.
In late January, a support group placed six Chinese women undergoing vocational training at a sewing factory in Yufu, Oita Prefecture, under protection after they complained of harsh working conditions.
They had been forced to work until the predawn hours every day. After the factory operator learned that one of them complained about her working conditions to a relative living in Japan, the boss attempted to force her to go back to China. However, she called the organization for help.
“I’ve worked too much and have a headache,” one of them complained to the organization.
“We’re given only 10 minutes for a meal,” another said.
The organization learned that the company paid each of them only 10,000 to 30,000 yen in overtime per month even though they performed about 270 hours of overtime a month. Moreover, the company kept the trainees’ bankbooks.
Another former Chinese trainee who worked at a sewing factory in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture, received only 300 yen per hour for overtime, less then half the legal minimum wage. The former trainee has filed a suit, demanding unpaid wages.
There are also problems with employment agencies in trainees’ home countries.
One agency in China advertised on its Web site for trainees at Japanese companies under illegal working conditions, such as 300 yen per hour of overtime in the first year of training.
Before coming to Japan, many trainees are required to pay employment agencies a deposit and other fees, which are several times their annual income. They typically obtain loans to pay the fees, and are supposed to use the wages they earn in Japan to repay their debts.
“They often have no choice but to accept illegal working conditions for fear that they would be forced to go back to their home countries before repaying their debts,” a member of one of the support groups said.
The Justice Ministry has confirmed that a record 452 companies and other organizations that accepted foreign trainees were involved in illegal practices last year. About 60 percent of them involve violations of labor-related laws, including unpaid wages and overtime allowances.
A survey conducted by the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO) has found that a record 34 trainees died in fiscal 2008. Nearly half, or 16 of them, died of brain and heart diseases that are often caused by long working hours. Experts say that there is a high possibility that they died from overwork.
With the amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, labor related laws, which had applied to foreign trainees from their second year, now apply to those in their first year of training. As a result, it is now guaranteed that foreign trainees can sign proper employment contracts with their employers, just like Japanese workers.
The government is poised to revise its regulations to inspect companies that accept foreign trainees at least once a month to see if their working conditions are legal as well as stiffen penalties for businesses involved in illegal labor practices and strictly examine the terms of contracts between foreign trainees and employment agencies in their home countries.
However, support groups question the effectiveness of these measures, pointing out that many of those in their second year of training are subjected to illegal labor practices.
Lawyer Shoichi Ibusuki, who specializes in the issue of foreign trainees, underscores the need to discuss the pros and cons of fully accepting foreign workers rather than changing the working conditions for foreign trainees.
“Legal revisions alone can’t prevent infringements of trainees’ rights and death from overwork. Rather than making superficial changes to the system, we should discuss the pros and cons of accepting foreign laborers,” he said.
Original Japanese story: