Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on March 2nd, 2010
Hi Blog. Finally, we have a voice from a person in the know about what’s going on with NJ being brought over to Japan on special visas to work in Japan’s health care industry. According to the report below, the trilateral (as in Japan-Philippines-Indonesia) EPA nurse program is everything I expected, and more. People being ill-trained, unsupported in a hostile workplace, financially strapped and exploited, having unreasonable expectations (particularly regarding language study) heaped upon them, and then tested with hurdles so high they’ll not qualify to stay. And thus the Revolving-Door Work-Study Program cycle once again is complete, with NJ overwhelmingly unable to live in Japan under these conditions. Leach off their work for a year or three, then send them home. ‘Cos we don’t need to invest in anyone but real Japanese, not potential immigrants, no matter how much they want to stay here. Too bad. But it’s within character of the GOJ policymakers. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Subject: EPA Foreign Nurses and Caregivers Working in Japan Urgently Need Help
Date: January 31, 2010
My friend Emily Homma and myself are trying to reach out to the English speaking press in Japan, so that the message below reaches as many people as possible. We hope that you will be able to help us spreading the word.
Thanks a lot,
Annerose Matsushita in Fukushima For Emily Homma in Saitama
Here is what I wrote in the following blog (I am AFWJ.org’s webmaster):
Emily Homma lives in Saitama (Kanto) and has been assisting Filipino nurses and caregivers who came to Japan under the Economic Partnership Agreement of Japan (EPA). She helped them with Japanese language support, clothing donations (Japan is much colder than The Philippines) and others.
You may have heard of this program through local news. Having seen with her own eyes the situation from the nurses’ side, Emily wishes to let people in Japan and overseas know their truth and their feelings.
You can read here what Emily wrote:
“EPA Foreign Nurses and Caregivers Working in Japan Urgently Need Help
The Economic Partnership Agreement of Japan (EPA) with other countries, especially with the Philippines (JPEPA), has placed many Filipino nurses and caregivers working in Japan in a miserable situation where they are subjected to unfair labor practices, extreme pressure to study kanji, and poor salaries.
When they arrived in Japan in May 2009, the Filipino nurses and caregivers were glad to be finally given the opportunity to serve Japanese society as hospital workers. However, after only six months of Nihongo study and three months of hospital work in hospital, the Filipino nurses along with their Indonesian counterparts have been suffering from various hardships not only from unfair work policies, low salaries, and local workers’ rejection but also from strong pressure to master medical-nursing kanji and the Japan nursing system. It is a system that, unfortunately for the foreign workers, only those with high level-Grade 12 Japanese training or nursing graduates could understand.
Specifically, the Filipino nurses find themselves in the following extremely frustrating situations that leave them no choice but contemplate leaving Japan soon:
1. Japan puts the Filipino nurses and caregivers in a cheap labor trap, requiring them to pass the Licensure examinations within three years although they are given only six months of formal Basic Nihongo study and occasional group reviews. The Japanese government and the Japan Nurses Association (JNA) insist that foreign nurses take the examination in Japanese without furigana phonetic guides for the kanji characters. Yet, the nurses are required to pass the licensure examination to get promoted to fulltime nurse positions and acquire the privilege to bring their dependents to Japan. Considering that medical kanji is extremely difficult even to their Nihongo teachers in Japan, this highly restrictive stance of the government and the JNA not only reflects a serious barrier to foreign nurses from getting integrated into the local workforce but also a clear intent to use or exploit the foreign nurses for three years on a temporary basis just like any expendable commodity.
2. The salary and benefits for these foreign workers—a gross total of only 120,000-200,000 yen—are not enough to sustain a decent and respectable life in Japan. With majority of the health workers receiving only a net pay of about 60,000 yen after deductions, they have to resort to extraordinary remedies just to meet all of their living expenses in Japan: house rent, electricity, gas supply, Internet connection, cellular phone bills, and transport expenses. This puts them on a starvation situation and makes them unable to send a substantial amount of money to their respective dependents in their homelands. Indeed, some hospital administrators in Japan make local Japanese health workers work on a 7.5-hours-per-day basis to make them remain part-timers receiving an hourly rate of only 900 yen, but applying the same policy to foreign workers with no relatives in Japan to help them meet the cost of living utterly abuses the foreign health workers’ rights, disrespects their experience and profession, and degrades their worth as health workers. For this reason, the Japan International Corporation of Welfare Services (JICWELS) must be prevailed upon to choose only hospitals that can afford to offer good wage packages when hiring foreign health workers.
3. Foreign nurses in Japan are subjected to undue comparison and unfair competition with local workers, fostering great insecurity on the former. There are strong indications that the presence of foreign workers in Japan hospitals is perceived as a threat to local workers’ employment status or hopes for salary improvement. This breeds disrespect and scorn towards the foreign workers and fosters an unfriendly atmosphere in many work settings. As a result, the foreign nurses are finding it extremely difficult to cope with their new environment, making it a big question if they could really fit in and be accepted as workers in Japan under an atmosphere of mutual understanding and cooperation.
4. Japan’s nursing system, being far different from those of the homelands of the foreign nurses working in Japan, makes it extremely difficult for the foreign nurses to adjust and cope. The experience and education of foreign nurses working in Japanare comparable and largely attuned to the culture and job expectations of Western countries. They are therefore finding it difficult to adjust to the kind of assistant nurse work and nursing aide tasks expected from them in Japan. Compounding the problem is that it was not made clear to them before hiring what specific job functions they are expected to perform, a situation made worse by the language gap and the inadequacy of the foreign workers in understanding Nihongo. Thus, even if some of the foreign nurses have already attained a certain level of Nihongo, there is a crying need for Japanese-language nursing books, training materials, and exam reviewers to be translated into English and explained in English.
5. There is no existing training program or orientation for foreign nurses on the Japan nursing system before they assume their jobs. Due to the absence of this training or orientation, foreign nurses are frequently reprimanded and ridiculed by their local workmates when they are unable to perform according to the Japanese system. For their part, hospital administrators just rely on the suggestions and complaints aired by the foreign workers, and many of those suggestions and complaints are simply ignored. There is clearly a need for immersion and retraining of foreign nurses so they can meet the work and performance standards of the hospitals of their host country.
6. The Japanese work ethics and work attitudes differ greatly from those of foreign nurses. To foreign workers, rushing and scurrying at work reflects inefficiency and unpreparedness, but to the Japanese, to do this shows one’s dedication and excellent performance. For the leaders of local workers, bullying and humiliating a trainee nurse is part of the training, and the trainee nurse is expected to endure this abuse without complaining. But foreign nurses, having been trained in a work culture where respect and professionalism are a must among workmates especially in the presence of patients, often are constrained to express their concerns and suggestions against such bullying and humiliation. However, their doing so is often perceived as en expression of distrust towards the prerogatives of the hospital management, so even the mild criticisms expressed by foreign workers could easily backfire on them.
7. There is hardly any room for advancement or career development for foreign nurses in Japan. In the absence of any program by the Japanese government and its health services sector, the career and promotion opportunities of foreign nurses and other workers are seriously stifled in Japan. Even if they work in Japan for a long time, there is very little hope for them to rise above the position of nursing aides performing the tasks of caregivers and domestic helpers. Indeed, in a country where even the local workforce is deprived of advancement opportunities, the native Japanese workers often tell the foreign nurses: “You are not needed here. You’d better work in countries where you could communicate in English.” It is clear that when the opportunity arises, these foreign nurses would rather leave Japan and work in countries where they are more likely to realize their dreams of growth and professional advancement.
8. There being no labor attaches to represent them in Japan, the foreign nurses are left to fend off for themselves and to fight for their rights on their own. As a general rule, JICWELS always takes the side of oppressive hospitals when foreign nurses complain against questionable employment terms and practices. Its stock answer is often that “they didn’t have any precedent of previous case experiences” and that “everything the hospital says is final.” Consequently, no transfer ever takes place when a nurse requests for placement to a better and fairer hospital. The foreign workers, already burnt out at work, therefore often drive themselves to exhaustion in fighting for their own rights in hospitals with an uncaring administration or management.
Considering these very serious problems besetting Filipino nurses and other health workers in Japan, it is respectfully proposed that the JICWELS and the Philippines, particularly the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), should immediately and carefully examine the flaws in the hiring and deployment of the first batch of Filipino nurses and other workers to Japan. This needs to be done before the second batch is allowed to come to Japanin May 2010. Both Japan and the Philippines must sit down together in a spirit of amity and cooperation to forcefully and meaningfully address the working conditions of Filipino nurses and other health professionals in Japan, an increasing number of whom have been suffering from extremely low pay and inadequate benefits, work displacement, mental stress, and utter frustration in their jobs.
Action must be taken now before it is too late.
Sincerely yours, Emily Homma, Saitama, Japan”
UPDATE FEBRUARY 28, 2010
From: Emily Homma
Thank you so much for considering the article/letter on the nurses and caregivers’ plight for your next debito.org topic. The nurses have been looking forward for that chance to be heard through your column.
They had their first try of the nursing exam given in Japanese last February 21, but they could hardly understand the kanji characters, not even the directions. They still sat for the exam of course, but just guessed on the answers, for the questions were extremely hard for their low Elementary Nihongo level (comparable to grade 4 pupil’s) . From about 80 JPEPA nurses that took the exam, only two of them who had straight four months of fulltime review (without work) under a doctor mentor could say that they could read many of the kanji characters, but do not understand the meaning of the questions. The group is hoping that, at least two of their batch members (of 90) would pass this year’s exam.
Majority are thinking of staying here in Japan just within the length of the three-year period, for they do not expect to pass the licensure exam if given in Japanese with full kanji without phonetic symbols. This would mean, Japan does not only give these foreign workers difficulties in life and career, but wastes its own resources and tax money training these people in their Nihongo and provide dormitory accommodation (for six months) only to find them leave from May this year (when the group is expected to renew their one-year visas) until the end of the three-year period to pass the exam. Japan has to review the program in order for these Filipino and Indonesian health workers possibly pass the exam, gain better lives, and so that their income level reaches regular local nurses’ pay. Meantime, all of them must be granted a fulltime status and a uniform 160,000 yen pay (not 120,000 gross, with just 60,000 yen net…which is exactly my brother’s net pay this February) so that they would not worry where to get their food sustenance while enduring life here.
There are a lot more issues related to these problems…they were mentioned in my previous letter. Please ask me any other things you want clarified, or contact my brother, the JPEPA nurse leader for other comments (Joseph Benosa) at jcbpogiben AT yahoo DOT com.
Thank you Debito and Annerose for helping us.
Instructor/Teacher Trainor/Civic Volunteer
emilyhomma AT yahoo DOT com