Yomiuri: GOJ split over what to do about Trainee Visa abuses


Hi Blog. It’s becoming a hot issue at last: What to do about all the NJ labor coming over here and getting abused by unscrupulous employers and officials. The Yomiuri offers a good overview, then Matt Dioguardi offers an even better overview of the GOJ debate and proposals popping up there to fix the situation. Kinda. Debito in Sapporo


Govt split over foreign trainee program
Takeshi Kosaka, Masaharu Nomura and Soichiro Kuboniwa
Yomiuri Shimbun May 19, 2007


Government officials are engaged in a heated debate over an on-the-job training system for foreigners, which has been criticized by some as allowing employers to exploit foreign trainees as low-wage laborers.

Study panels established by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry recently proposed a review of the system, while Justice Minister Jinen Nagase on Tuesday said he personally believes a new system for accepting foreign manual laborers should be introduced to replace the current system.

Concerned ministries, eyeing a drastic review of the foreign trainee system, plan to hold discussions on the issue with a view toward revising relevant laws in an ordinary Diet session in 2009.

But the motivations for any review vary markedly among the ministries, and it is unclear how these differing views can be reconciled.

The current system is widely used, with the number of small and midsize companies taking advantage of it rising considerably since 1990 over concerns about labor shortages.

However, there have been numerous reports of unlawful or improper action by host companies, such as a refusal to pay overtime wages and withholding foreign trainees’ passports or bankbooks.

It has also been revealed that in some cases, foreign trainees had to pay large fees to brokering organizations in their home countries before leaving for Japan. As a result, many foreign trainees went missing after entering Japan, to work illegally.

The succession of problems prompted the ministries separately to discuss a possible review of the system.

For the first of the three years of on-the-job training under the scheme, foreign trainees are not legally considered employees, and are thus not covered by the Labor Standards Law, the Minimum Wage Law and other laws protecting workers.

The labor ministry’s panel on May 11 compiled a plan that would abolish the one-year training period, to allow the workers to be treated as employees for the whole period.

One senior ministry official noted, “Even if foreign trainees are forced to work under terrible conditions, labor laws don’t cover them during the trainee period, so we have no way of protecting them.”

But three days later, the METI panel issued a report that said the one-year trainee period should be maintained.

“Companies shoulder the cost of accommodating the foreign trainees and also provide Japanese language classes and work-safety training,” a ministry official said. “If they’re made employees from the start, it could actually create a situation whereby they are abused as low-wage laborers.”

The economy ministry believes the best way to prevent improper treatment of foreign trainees is to toughen penalties on host companies, and introduce some sort of certification for legitimate host firms.

The two ministries’ proposals have some points in common, such as proposing extending the permissible period of stay for trainees in Japan from the current three years to five.

However, there are also noticeable differences between the two ministries’ positions. These differences stem largely from the fact that the labor ministry wants to expand the coverage of labor laws, while the economy ministry wants to give due consideration to the small and midsize companies accepting foreign trainees.

The justice minister’s proposal is to abolish the current system and introduce a totally new one to allow the acceptance of a wider range of foreign workers for short periods. It would also in effect lift the ban on domestic firms accepting foreign manual laborers.

Nagase has instructed the Justice Ministry to examine his plan based on the following premises:

— The purpose of accepting foreign trainees or workers will change from “contributing to the transfer of job skills as part of international cooperation” to “contributing to securing the necessary workforce in Japan.”

— Atrocious working conditions and extremely low wages for foreign workers are unacceptable.

— Foreign trainees or workers are not allowed to reenter Japan with the same visa status, to prevent them from permanently settling in the nation.

Justice Ministry officials were generally positive toward the minister’s plan, with one senior official saying, “By withdrawing the official rationale of international contribution, the debates can be grounded in reality.”

But some in the labor and economy ministries were critical of the justice minister’s plan.

One official said, “It’s too drastic to say the system should be scrapped just because there is a discrepancy between the goal and the reality.” Another was concerned the plan would completely overturn the government’s policy of not accepting foreign manual laborers, while a third said, “The current system has been, to a certain degree, effective as part of the nation’s international contribution.”

But all three ministries agree that a revised or completely new system should include measures to crackdown on overstayers through tighter immigration controls, and improvements in managing foreign workers’ information.

Since February, the Justice Ministry has been considering integrating control and management of immigration-related data held by the central government with data on foreign nationals’ resident registration held by municipal governments, so that overstayers can be identified more easily.

The labor and economy ministries plan to proceed with discussions on possible changes to the system, while cautiously eyeing moves by the Justice Ministry.

(Yomiuri Shinbun May 19, 2007)


Now recently three ministries have stepped forward with a plan to save the day. These would be:

The Ministry of Justice
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

There would seem to be the three views, roughly something like this …

Justice Ministry: Let’s stop pretending this is a trainee program and just admit openly that it’s a guest worker program. Then let’s be very clear that we expect labor laws to apply to the guest workers just like anyone else. We’ll crack down on the abuses. However, let’s be very clear that after the guests have stayed for three years, they MUST leave and they certainly can NOT come back. We don’t want these poor low life scum ruining Japanese society and culture.

Labor Ministry: Let’s just reform the system a bit. Let’s throw out the Industrial Training Program and instead focus on the Technical Internship Program. And you know that clause we’ve got about labor law not applying for the first year, well, let’s go ahead and apply it. That should fix things up, well, you know, maybe a little. I mean, this whole system is pretty lucrative for us bureaucrats, so let’s not rock the boat too much.

Economics Ministry: Let’s not let go of the idea that Japan is trying to help other countries by training their people. So what if the program becomes near slave labor at times. Even if it’s not true that were helping other countries, it’s the thought that counts. Do you know how much trouble it’ll be for us MITI bureaucrats to deal with these other countries if we were OPENLY using and throwing away their workers? They would hate us. We can’t lose the important facade that we’re helping to develop poor countries. Why don’t we offer a certification program for those who want to abuse the trainees. It won’t mean dirt, but it’ll give us bureaucrats a bit more power and that’s not bad, right?…


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