7th Asia-Pacific Meeting – Protection of Foreign Workers in Japan

In developing economic relations among Asian nations through Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and/or Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), to receive foreign workers has become another big issue.
As a result of the revision of the Immigration Control Law in 1998, many foreign workers came to Japan. Since the Japanese government amended the rules for visa status, more and more foreigners have come to Japan to work. The background of the current serious situation of foreign workers is that Japanese government has failed to take appropriate measures to protect foreign workers. In addition, deregulation of labor laws has further deteriorated their job market and working conditions.
Governments of the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and South Korea have asked the Japanese government to accept medical practitioners, nurses and care workers. Based on Japan-Indonesia EPA, 208 Indonesian nursing care workers and prospective nurses came to Japan in August, 2008. This is the first time to receive nurses from abroad. From February, they started receiving training at medical places to obtain Japanese domestic license. They are obliged to pass the national examination within 3 to 4 years. If they fail, they shall go back to Indonesia. Although they have difficulties to speak Japanese, they make their at most to pick up Japanese customs and work hard. I’d like to pay my hearty respect to them.
EPA and FTA are originally contemplated to accept labor force from abroad in such medical and welfare field as Japanese labor force are expected to be short in the future for offering multinational enterprises in auto and electric industries more opportunities to make advancing abroad and export their products. For Japanese trade union movement, the issue of receiving foreign workers is unavoidable challenge.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of foreign residents reached the record
high, about 2.15 million, in October 2007. The Japanese government, however, has not grasped as a whole actual conditions of foreign workers who work with various employment status including temporary workers.
Amid the global economic downturn, working people face hard economic and employment situation in Japan, too. Under the circumstance, foreign workers at factories are dismissed for the first step. Once they are fired, they lose their jobs and places to live at the same time.
For example, at a town in Gunma Prefecture, approximately 100 km northwest of Tokyo, many Brazilians work at factories. But now, one out of five Japanese-Brazilians are unemployed. They are suffering from financial hardships. They can’t afford their children’s school fee. Some Brazilian families go back home by leaving their fathers alone in Japan. Some of these Japanese-Brazilians are joining Kenkoro.
The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren), to which Kenkoro and Zenkenro (the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism-All Construction Workers’ Union) are affiliated, established the National Contingent Workers Action Center (CWAC) in September, 2006 with an aim to protect foreign workers’ rights based on the relevant Japanese labor laws and to realize demands of foreign workers and their families.
Now I’d like to take up a case in Kumamoto Prefecture, southern part of Japan, for which Kenkoro supports.
In September 2007, Chinese trainees at a sewing plant visited the union’s jobs counseling center to ask for urgent help. They would be forcibly sent back home because the sewing company went bankrupt. They joined our local union and negotiated with their employer. They won a month pay in lieu of notice, but the employer refused to pay unpaid wage and overtime. They complained to the court about their case. Many lawyers represent them without pay. With the support of many other unions and civil organizations, they petitioned the Immigration Bureau and the government and achieved extension of their visa expiry.
These Chinese trainees came to Japan with hope. However, their reality was different. Just after their arrival in Japan, they started to experience harsh treatment. They were placed into excessively heavy work load. Although they got sick, they were unable to take offs. No Japanese language course was provided. They were closely watched in order to prevent from talking to Japanese. At their company’s dormitory, they were forced to share a tiny room with 12 fellows.
These Chinese trainees now wage their struggle with the support of many Japanese people who feel ashamed to know that such labor practices like slavery was carried out in Kumamoto. Appreciating the support, they decide to make their effort to win their case in order to pave the way for taking measures to relief many other foreign trainees under the same situation. They wish Japanese and Chinese people could establish a relationship be trusted each other. They want to work hard by using knowledge and skills learned in Japan and come to Japan again.
The case in Kumamoto highlighted the problem of Japan’s industrial training and traineeship program. It was started in 1993 with the aim of contributing to human resources development in developing countries. Despite the initial aim, multinational companies of automobile, semiconductor, garment as well as construction industries which are suffering from the shortage of Japanese labor force abused the program for cheap labor. Misuse of foreign trainees of small- and micro-sized enterprises is the result of major companies’ arrogant demand for cost cutting. The Japanese government should be blamed for ignoring this situation without fulfilling its responsibility.
When we receive foreign workers, important thing is to protect their rights of workers and to provide fare working conditions. Zenroren in June 2008 announced the proposal for establishing a multiracial and multicultural nation and for enactment of a basic law for foreign residents with the aim of taking the first step to change the Japanese society to the one open to the international community by securing basic rights of foreign residents in Japan, which includes right to fair treatment, social services and education.
In response to the call by the UITTB, Kenkoro in Japan waged a campaign for protecting migrant workers. The government and the ruling parties have started discussion about the issue that the term to apply the worker protection to foreign trainees should be shortened from three years to one. On the other hand, our efforts started to obtain success. Acknowledging this issue as the one of Asia as a whole, we will do our utmost to wage further struggle.
All Japan Construction, Transport and General Workers’ Union KENKORO Japan