April 09, 2014
EDITORIAL: Labor policy message to foreigners; Thanks. Now go home
In a nutshell, the thinking behind the government’s emergency policy for the construction industry is: Despite the nation’s serious labor shortage, young people don’t want jobs, which forces us to rely on foreigners. But we don’t want them to settle in Japan permanently. So we will extend the period they can work in Japan up to double the current limit. But we will ensure they go home after the period expires.
Will such an impromptu measure work?
Central to this policy is the Technical Intern Training Program for foreigners. The purpose of this program is to aid newly emerging nations and developing countries by developing their personnel resources through work experience in Japan for a maximum of three years.
The government also combines this program with the visa residential status named “Designated Activities,” which is issued to foreign nationals, such as amateur athletes, domestic servants employed privately by diplomats, and those in the Technical Intern Training Program.
Under this visa status, foreigners who have completed the program will be able to stay in Japan for an additional two to three years. The government says this is a temporary arrangement that will remain in effect until fiscal 2020, the year of the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
About 150,000 foreign nationals are currently working under the Technical Intern Training Program in all fields. But the original purpose of “aiding developing nations” has become blurred, and the program now serves in reality as a means to cover the domestic labor shortage with foreigners.
Under this program, many problems have come to light, such as illegally long working hours, nonpayment of wages and human rights violations, including physical abuse.
The Diet has discussed these matters, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has issued directives to the parties concerned, and the International Labor Organization and the U.S. Department of State have issued reports, all repeatedly urging the Japanese government to fix the situation.
The government has finally decided that only reputable organizations and companies should be allowed to join the program, and that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and the construction industry should exercise greater oversight.
But we believe the government’s foremost priority now should be to eradicate the problems. The move to accept more foreigners is not limited to the construction sector.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has come up with a set of proposals, including extending the duration of the Technical Intern Training Program from the current three years to five years, raising the foreign trainee quota, which is currently determined by the number of employees on each company’s payroll, and expanding the sectors subject to the program to other fields, including nursing care.
The government’s Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy and the Industrial Competitiveness Council are now studying these proposals.
However, the government is reluctant to accept foreigners as workers on a full-scale basis and allow them to settle permanently in Japan as immigrants, insisting that the matter has nothing to do with immigration and that the issue needs to be further debated by the public.
By overseas standards, the argument can be made that anyone who works in a foreign country for five or six years is none other than an immigrant. Given the reality of the work performed by foreign nationals under the Technical Intern Training Program, the Japanese government’s claim that they are basically “trainees” will not be accepted by the international community.
As for the government’s haste to expand the Technical Intern Training Program in disregard of the many problems this entails, a concerned source offered this criticism: “It looks as if the government is simply trying to increase the number of migrant workers.”
We wonder how the Abe administration will respond to that criticism.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 6