Reuters: Abe Admin seeks to expand, not contract, the deadly exploitative NJ “Trainee” program


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Hi Blog.  When 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

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.


17 comments on “Reuters: Abe Admin seeks to expand, not contract, the deadly exploitative NJ “Trainee” program

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Related to this Dr. Debito, and your last thread, please find this news from the internet;

    To summarize, the negotiations to close a free trade agreement between the EU and Japan have hit a stumbling block since the agreement includes human rights clauses. Whilst these clauses are routine for EU trade deals in order to ensure that EU companies don’t mistreat non-EU workers, the Japanese are framing this as an attempt by western imperialist powers to enforce their ‘racist’ ways on Japan’s unique culture. The Japanese netizens comments in themselves are baffling since the majority of them don’t seem to understand that such clauses would protect and benefit them too.

    (Sigh) you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

    The Japanese seem determined to do everything they can to hasten their demise in every sense of the word. Rather reminds me of the end of Atlas Shrugged (not that I am a Ryandian) where the torturers tell John Galt they will kill him if he doesn’t save them, and drive themselves insane.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Abe’s dreamy policy will be largely ineffectual as more and more labor pools realise this is a scam and a con. We discussed on other threads how even traditional sources of cheap labor, e.g. The Philippines are avoiding Japan for more preferred work destinations.

    There is also this, which may burst the bubble for Japan’s “goal” of attracting elite expats.

    Abe and Co are using an out of date map of reality, circa the 80s (their ideal time) based on several mistaken premises
    1. “Japan is safety country” rebranded- how Abe got the Olympics, although money was the real key. No sane person buys this after Fukushima.
    2. Japan is respected in Asia, other Asians want to come and work in Japan for a pittance. I think the only labor sources not yet jaded by the experience of disappointing Japan are Vietnam and Indonesia, but Hong Kong is their destination of choice.
    3. People want to get paid in yen. Well, I dont. Not now its so weak (ironically Abe’s doing).

    I just worry for the few people who do fall for the scam. Having said that, there is always the option of the “midnight run” a popular mode of exit used by ELT teachers at Hagwons in Korea, so long as they can get their passport back from their employers (Or apply for a new one by claiming they lost it?).

    Capturing and returning “escaping” employees smacks so much of the slave/sex trade that it increasingly cannot bode well for Japan in the eyes of the UN.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    It doesn’t really matter whether they call this “trainee program” or “labor contract,” since this is the kind of outsourcing scheme the state is trying to make for selling out unknown labor market under the name of ‘public.’ Although trainee program departs slightly from privatization of public system, it’s just as nasty as selling out public system for its privatization, such as closing public schools and establishing privately funded charters/vouchers under the name of ‘public’ institution, or building expensive sports facilities by slashing workers’ public pensions(or even worse, using Public Broadcasting Service for its promotion).

    What is striking about this work visa scheme is that the central government is promoting blue collar work as de-professionalized jobs that are essentially unpopular to Japanese due to 3D/3K health risks concern. Even though the situation is not necessarily the same as Mexican immigrants crossing the borders are accused of taking (stealing) the menial jobs (construction/factory/farm) from locals, there’s clearly a bias on the program. The government knows that such jobs like construction and farming are not a gold mine profit-motivated employers/brokers can enjoy the ride for a gravy train funded by central government (e.g., US Department of Education), billion dollars private foundations (i.e., Gates Foundation; Walton Family Foundation), or a giant testing powerhouse (i.e., Pearson). So, they set their target market to tertiary private sectors, where snake-oil salesmen and predatory private brokers are waiting for naïve NJ migrants as prey.

    Improvement of working condition? Job Security? I have never heard such words from the MHLW on trainee program ever before. I can hear some numbskull in the ministry(s) saying, “There’s no such word as ‘Inequality for All’ ( to Japanese labor market, except for the one between Japanese workers and NJ trainees. “ No wonder Abe and LDP de-formers want to carry on this Wal-Mart like labor exploitation for promoting of Olympics 2020 in their Jal-Mart advertisement.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @JDG, #3

    >The Japanese seem determined to do everything they can to hasten their demise in every sense of the word.

    I’m not sure where their state of mind lies today, but I bet Ayn Rand fantasy could be so strong that some (or most?) of them won’t be able to get back to the reality of ‘Shrinking Japan’ due to the side effect of “excessive personal-wealth-is-everything” hallucination. It probably does more than re-invoking compulsive material obsessions (i.e., English language, Western technology) they had since the Meiji Era, I guess.

    I remember my former college mentor made fun of Ayn Rand in his book “Selling Free Market”:

    “To recognize yourself in the last pages of Atlas Shrugged, gloating over the ruins of civilization, may be fine if you are fantasizing about schoolyard bullies and snobbish cheerleaders receiving their comeuppance. But to turn such anger into a politics and a religion is not a fit preoccupation for adults. To be an adult is to recognize a sense of obligation: to a partner, a child, a community. Ayn Rand came to America because her relatives in Chicago helped her. They were an ordinary, hard-working, religious Jewish family. I wonder if she ever thanked them” (76).

    I think her reference works pretty well, especially when we talk about the social elite or anyone who just made it to an exclusively lucrative social status despite severe socio-economic or legal challenges. I also found her reference quite fit for teasing Donald Keene.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Baudrillard #5

    I think you’ve got a fair point.

    Let’s look at Japan’s recent labor shortage policy failures;

    1. The program to attract much needed NJ nurses, that fell flat on it’s butt because of the impossibly high hurdles set by Japanese policy makers.
    2. The effort to attract 2000 ‘elite’ NJ a year, (presumably the ‘rich Jews’ that Aso mentioned). Failed because of insufficient applicants, ostensibly due to the ‘high hurdles’ identified after the fact by policy makers (which, TBH, means that they are prepared to accept the embarrassment of pretending the failure was due to the hurdles, rather than the fact that genuinely ‘elite’ NJ have far better choices than Japan).
    3. The Nikkeijin V2.0! Having paid them to go home after Lehmans Shock, policy makers thought it might be a good idea to allow them back in. Funnily enough, haven’t heard a peep on this one since the idea was first floated, but didn’t notice a huge rush of interest from any South Americans that I know.
    4. Now they have this idea about the trainee program. Hmmm.

    As Baudrillard points out, there are far more attractive options for even those who are seeking manual labor. And anyway, aren’t the majority currently employed (ahem, sorry, I meant ‘exploited’) by these training schemes Chinese nationals? They didn’t really think that one through, did they? Abe might have to stop his visits to the spirits of 1400 war-criminals (not to mention his lip-flapping friends at NHK) if his plans for the Tokyo Olympics now rest on whether or not he can attract thousands of Chinese, don’t you think?

    If Abe can pull it off and attract (sorry, again, I mean ‘con’) thousands of NJ to come and do all the Olympic construction, given that Amnesty and the UN have slammed the ‘Trainee’ program, it would be really sweet if international opinion framed the Tokyo Olympics as ‘built on inhumane slave labor’ (or some such), which would mesh nicely with (for example) Obama’s comment that the war-time sex-slaves was an abuse of human rights, wouldn’t it? It would show that Japan hasn’t really changed (in it’s psychology and ideology) since the war.

    But all this is by-the-by. After all, aren’t all these NJ that Abe wants just the kind of ‘disloyal gaijin’ that went home when the triple nuclear melt-down happened (I’m talking about Fukushima. I thought I should spell it out, because ever since the secrecy law, Fukushima accidents have miraculously stopped, I can only assume, since Fukushima isn’t in the paper 3 times a week announcing new accidents/mistakes).

    It would be great if the Tokyo Olympics really did rest on exploited NJ labor who at the last minute, frightened by (say) an earthquake near a nuclear plant (for example), took off back to China in droves, leaving preparations only half-done, and a construction industry with no staffing solution to fit the time-frame, wouldn’t it? As you sow, so shall you reap Japan!

  • Critical Capybara says:

    @ Jim Di Griz #9

    You bring up some good points there. The effort to attract the “elite” foreigners as you say was most certainly set-up to fail by design. I can only imagine the state of mind of Abe & Co and the bureaucrats when they come up with these ridiculous ideas. Perhaps actually inviting foreigners to give input on such policies before they implement them might be an idea….

    One thing though, I am curious about your comment on Fukushima accidents not being reported. Almost every other week it’s on the NHK nightly news. Usually to do with some new discovered leak or other water related problem. I don’t think secrecy law has had any effect yet, although that might be because it hasn’t become law yet – (December this year?) I haven’t been reading the papers latey so I can’t comment on them, but it is definitely on the news.

    — Fukushima isn’t really the topic of this blog entry, so please don’t let the discussion stray…

  • Tokyo Gov Masuzoe piles on with his proposal for luring NJ talent into Tokyo, with more ideas about enclaves and somehow bypassing national Immigration Bureau rules:

    Tokyo governor unveils plan to lure foreign business talent
    Japan Today BUSINESS MAY. 20, 2014 – 06:50AM JST, courtesy of AA

    TOKYO — Tokyo Gov Yoichi Masuzoe on Monday pledged aggressive deregulation drives to lure foreign talent to the city to spur growth and take back its reputation as Asia’s business hub from rivals such as Singapore.

    Japan has very strict immigration policies and business has to battle reams of red tape to attract skilled workers, two factors that tend to put off global firms and foreign investors.

    “We have to import many intelligent people from abroad. We badly need young talented persons,” he said at a press conference for foreign media.

    By working with the central government, Masuzoe promised to relax labor regulations in a planned special district of his metropolis to make it easier for foreigners to live and work.

    The pledge is part of his wider drive to make Tokyo a more vibrant hub for finance, health care and pharmaceutical development.

    His initiatives come amid a general view in Japan that Tokyo has lost its appeal as an international business center after two decades of economic stagnation and because of archaic regulations ill-suited to an era of globalization.

    Masuzoe, who said he regards Singapore as the top Asian hub for finance and pharmaceutical development, said Tokyo can shine again.

    “I will bring those centers… back to Tokyo before 2020,” when the Japanese capital hosts the summer Olympic games, Masuzoe said.

    He also pledged to amend the tax system and residential requirements to encourage business startups, including those by foreign students.

    Masuzoe came to power in February on a platform of reform, enjoying a wide-range of support, including from conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well as labor unions.

    © 2014 AFP

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Dr. D, Masuzoe’s got a terrible plan. It’ll never work because he lives in a totally different version of reality.

    To elaborate: Japan ‘needs’ thousands of manual laborers to complete the Tohoku reconstruction, and build all the infrastructure projects that Abe has been printing money for (especially the time-critical Olympic projects), not to mention all the kindergardens that can’t find anyone to build them.

    However, Masuzoe lives in the past, and completely out of step with economic/physical realities of the governments economic spending plans, clings (as so many policy makers do) to the misguided belief that Japan can ‘import’, use, and send home, thousands of ‘highly skilled’ NJ, due to yet another delusion;

    Japan Inc. will allow these ‘highly skilled’ NJ to change Japan’s corporate culture, and usher in a return to the (perceived) golden age of the bubble-era economic dream.

    These two imperatives (the reality of labor shortages V’s the ‘dream of a vibrant Japan’) are contradictory.

    The result will be a failure to attract skilled NJ and let them re-vitalize Japan Inc., AND incomplete construction projects.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @ Jim, but “We badly need young talented persons,” encourage business startups, including those by foreign students.” This might work to some extent.

    This means we want naive, inexperienced anime fans who we can underpay. They also look nice and Kawaii, and due to Japan’s “unique culture”, THEY MUST OBEY their elders (a large segment of the Japanese population.)

    Echoes the kawaii young Vietnamese girl who was sponsored by an Ojisan in local Govt (forget where, it was on study medicine to become a doctor, and added the sleazy Oyaji “I d rather have a young nurse looking after me in old age than a robot”- that was a direct quote, I am not making that up!

    We can take their best years, and then they will get homesick and move on (i.e. go home after a few years- Abe’s stated policy)

    — I’m not so sure that is a direct quote. Here’s the story you’re referring to (found in seconds by simply plugging in “Vietnamese” and “doctor” into’s search engine). If you’re going to cite something, do it properly. Otherwise it undermines your (and the issue’s) credibility.

  • Baudrillard says:

    ” I know that personally; I would not want a robot taking care of me in my old age. I’d much prefer a young lady!” was the exact quote, but my apologies to Mayor Akira Inaba and his 18 year old Vietnamese protege, as this was quote was instead from slightly sukebe oyaji Shigeyoshi Yoshida, executive director of the Japan NGO Council on Aging. By MONTY DIPIETRO in TOKYO
    China Daily/Asia Weekly, July 1-7, 2011, courtesy of the author

    Monty is a funny guy who writes off-beat, humorous stuff so I am not surprised the “young lady is better than robot” quote concluded his article (he once interviewed me but switched off the tape recorder when I said something that could have possibly been construed as being slightly negative (i.e. not smiley happy all the way) about Japan, as this apparently makes it harder to pitch to J newspapers).

    — Oh, yeah, that article! Here it is on too. I’d long forgotten I’d commented for it. Sorry for the scolding. It is indeed the quote.

  • GOJ Panel calls for shake-up in “Trainee” program
    Foreign-worker program draws fire over cases of alleged exploitation
    Japan Times, JUN 10, 2014

    “We need to restructure the program to prevent further human rights violations and make sure it will no longer be seen as exploiting them as cheap labor,” the panel said in its recommendations submitted to Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki on Tuesday.

    Proposals include subjecting employers to stricter oversight, for example by authorizing immigration officials to investigate trainees’ working conditions. Under the current framework, Tokyo-based Japan International Training Cooperation Organization supervises employers, but its warnings are not legally binding and its oversight is therefore ineffective, the panel said.

    It also urged that trainees be allowed to walk away from employers who mistreat them, something the current framework doesn’t permit.

    The panel emphasized the need for a crackdown on unpaid wages, recommending that violations be punished as rights violations. Currently, employers found guilty of abuse or extortion are punishable under the criminal code, but the panel proposes that they be subject to additional penalties, although it stopped short of suggesting what those should be.

    Full article at

  • More on “Trainees”:
    GOJ to set up headquarters to coordinate foreign worker pool
    KYODO JUN 10, 2014, courtesy of JJS

    The government plans to set up a headquarters within the Cabinet to work out measures by the end of fiscal 2015 for accepting more foreign workers in Japan, according to a draft schedule for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new growth strategy.

    The growth strategy to be compiled later this month eyes laying out necessary rules to allow foreigners to engage in broader types of jobs in sectors such as nursing care and in longer periods, the draft obtained by Kyodo News showed.

    A midterm strategy on the issue for fiscal 2016 and beyond will be decided through discussions among relevant ministries, the draft says.

    As a first step, foreign workers will be allowed to work as housekeepers this year in the newly created “strategic special zones” which promote deregulations and tax breaks, while qualified foreign students will also be able to work.

    At present, limited kinds of jobs are permitted for foreigners, such as those in research, culinary arts or other areas that require high skills.

    But the government faces the need to make up for a falling working population amid a decreasing birthrate and aging society to avoid an economic slowdown.

    Rest at

  • Hi Debito:

    >No amount of domestic or international condemnation will stop it.

    Perhaps, but it’s worth noting that this matter has mnaged to find its way inside Congress:

    Japan called hotbed of forced labor


    Japan called hotbed of forced labor
    July 09, 2014 Jiji Press

    WASHINGTON (Jiji Press)—Luis CdeBaca, U.S. ambassador-at-large who tackles human trafficking, expressed concerns on Tuesday that the Japanese government’s technical training program for foreigners has been serving as a hotbed of forced labor.

    “Traffickers continue to use…the program to subject victims to forced labor,” he said at a hearing at a Senate subcommittee. “The program lacks adequate government oversight,” CdeBaca said. “We look forward to working with the government of Japan over the coming year” to help revamp the program.

    The Japanese government plans to upgrade the foreign trainee program as a key measure in its revised economic growth strategy, which was announced last month.


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