Hello Blog. Here’s one of the most important writers regarding NJ issues (particularly the Zainichi), Tanaka Hiroshi, getting an article in the most prominent public Op-Ed column in the Japanese press (although I can’t find the Japanese version of it anywhere–little help?).
Good. Again, it’s what we’ve been saying all along. More voices the merrier. Debito in Sapporo
POINT OF VIEW/ Hiroshi Tanaka: Japan must open its arms to foreign workers
07/03/2007 THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Courtesy of Hans ter Horst
Japan, with its aging workforce, is facing a serious labor shortage that can only be solved by bringing in foreign workers. Even so, the country’s laws do not safeguard the human rights of these guest trainees and interns.
The government is attempting to change this situation, but in my view, its efforts lack focus.
Three arms of the government are making separate moves in this area.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare wants to treat foreign trainees as interns, so Japanese labor laws will cover them.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry proposes strengthening the screening process and penalties for maltreatment of foreign trainees and interns to improve working conditions and prevent human rights violations.
And Justice Minister Jinen Nagase seeks to establish a system whereby foreign workers can work only a maximum of three years.
To begin with, it is ridiculous to have three branches of government working separately to solve the same problem. This will only result in a tug of war over control.
What needs to be done is to establish a central policy office within the Prime Minister’s Office or the Cabinet Office, with its leader reporting directly to the prime minister.
In reality, there is a wide gap between how Japan deals with its foreign workers and the principles stated in official policy.
With the Japanese labor force in decline, the economy cannot be maintained without an influx of foreign labor. Despite this fact, the government is sticking with an outdated policy that limits the entry of unskilled foreign workers on grounds the practice could lead harm job security for Japanese workers.
At the same time, however, the government opened a back door into the job market, offering a fast track to visas for foreigners of Japanese descent and trainee and technical internship programs for foreigners.
These two loopholes enable unskilled foreigners to work in Japan. To date, about 350,000 foreigners of Japanese descent have come to Japan from Brazil, Peru and elsewhere to work in the automotive industry. Many are employed by subcontractors to the major automakers and other parts makers.
Instead of dealing squarely with them, the government has stuck with its “deceptive” policies. As a result, there are no protections in place to guarantee their human rights and labor rights. Since foreign workers are usually hired by brokers and dispatched indirectly, many employers fail to provide them with proper social insurance coverage.
Some workers even are illegally forced to hand over their passports to their employers, and others have been cheated of due wages. Such mistreatment has been reported in case after case, but nothing is done to prevent it.
I am working to resolve the educational problems faced by the children of foreign workers in Japan. Despite the rise in numbers of children attending Brazilian schools in Japan, these schools remain unaccredited. As such, they receive no government subsidies.
When revisions to the Fundamental Law of Education were discussed last year, not a word was heard about the right of immigrant children to an education or the government’s obligation to guarantee that education.
The government must squarely face these problems and create sincere policies to make the lives of our guest workers better.
Since the Japanese population is declining, the government needs to come out and make clear that we do need and value foreign workers. Once that is recognized, the government should examine which areas are lacking and estimate how many workers we need. It also should pass legislation to enable immigrants who complete Japanese-language training programs and vocational training courses to enter the workforce as full-fledged workers.
Some people worry that too many foreign workers would lead to lower wages for Japanese workers or steal jobs away.
If a foreign worker is more competent or better trained than a Japanese, then naturally they will get hired first.
But to assume that a foreigner should work for less than a Japanese is outright discrimination. And as long as the principle of “equal pay for equal work” is observed, the situation will not adversely affect the labor market.
The government’s passive attitude toward foreign workers shows how it remains unable to shake off its insular, Cold-War era mindset, one that pits people of one nation against another merely because they hold a certain citizenship.
This thinking leads us to set Japanese apart from foreigners.
We must accept people from other countries as “residents” and create a system to encourage them to participate in our society. Giving foreign residents the right to vote in local elections would be a step in the right direction.
For that, we need a system that encourages foreigners to settle in Japan, instead of one that treats them as temporary labor.
Japan needs to abandon its selfish attitudes and open up its closed society with firmly rooted policies.
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Hiroshi Tanaka is professor specializing in the history of Japan-Asia relations at Kyoto’s Ryukoku University and a representative of a citizens’ group that works to support schools for foreign residents in Japan.(IHT/Asahi: July 3,2007)