Zenroren’s view and demand on government policy of accepting more foreign workers
National Confederation of Trade Unions
November 5, 2018
On November 2, the Cabinet approved a bill to amend the Immigration Control and the Refugee Recognition Act, and the Act for Establishment of the Ministry of Justice. The aim of the bill is to create new categories of foreigners’ status of residence and accept more foreign workers by introducing Type One Status and Type Two Status. The government plans to submit the bill to the House of Representatives (197th Session of the Diet, which opened on October 24). Concerning the acceptance of more foreign workers, the March 2017 “Program for Implementing Work Style Reforms” (adopted by a government-led panel) stated that the government should promote it by gaining national consensus. But later, with the strong request from the business organizations and different industrialists’ groups, the government made a switchover to call for accepting more foreign workers in its outline of general economic policy approved by the Cabinet in June 2017.
The government is too hasty in making the policy change. The problems that need to be addressed include the prevalence of violations of the labor laws and the immigration control law, and Japan’s program for accepting foreign technical trainees, which is drawing criticism at home and the rest of the world for causing rampant human rights violations. Japan enacted a law on technical intern training law, which also calls for strengthening worker protection. The law came into effect in November 2017.
The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) is opposed to enacting the bill to accept more foreign workers in the current session of the Diet by acceding to the business circles’ call for resolving labor shortages and without examining its effectiveness.
We explain below the reason for our opposition and proposal for policies that should be implemented by the government.
By the way, already a large number of foreign workers are working in Japan. Their number is increasing year by year. Zenroren’s demand is not on the side of xenophobia. We are demanding that the government help create conditions for foreign workers in Japan to coexist with Japanese people. Zenroren member unions have helped many foreign workers solve their problems and also organized them. We are about to implement a policy of further strengthening solidarity with foreign workers in Japan.
I. Conditions of foreign workers in Japan and government policy
There are about 2.56 million foreigners living in Japan, including an estimated 1.28 million with jobs (according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, as of the end of October 2017). Of the foreigners with jobs, those who have status of residence based on identification and without restrictions on activity in Japan constitute the largest group of foreigners in Japan (459,000 including spouses who are Japanese, permanent residents of Japan, and third-generation Japanese). The government gives the status of residence with the purpose of having a job to foreigners in professional or technical fields, such as professors, lawyers, researchers, engineers, or cooks (238,000 people). But actually, there are about 297,000 students from abroad who are allowed to work up to 28 hours a week as “activity other than what is permitted under the permitted status of residence” even though they are staying in Japan to study. The government is also using the technical intern training program to procure workforce instead of making international contribution through technology transfer. There are about 258,000 such students.
Under the technical intern training program, trainees cannot choose a company for training or transfer to another company. For this reason, it is drawing criticism from the rest of the world as a contemporary slavery. Brokerage agencies sending trainees to Japan and various Japanese organizations providing services to companies that accept trainees collect fees for the services. Because of the heavy burden to shoulder, observers say many of those companies that accept trainees tend to exploit them by forcing them to work extremely hard. Technical trainees are facing numerous problems: excessively long working hours without overtime pay; violations of the minimum wage; assignment to simple or dangerous jobs that are not included in 77 types of work and 139 jobs permitted in the training program; collection of excessively high rents; violence; extortions; confinement; penalty for breach of contract; confiscation of passports or resident cards; undue restrictions of trainees’ outings and other privacy rights. These human rights violations are prevalent. These human rights violations are prohibited by the 2016 law on foreign technical trainees.
At the same time, however, nursing care was added to the technical intern training program. The maximum length of foreign trainees’ stay in Japan was extended from three years to five years. The Organization for Technical Intern Training has been established. The need now is to make sure whether the organization’s oversight and the strengthened penalties are effective for improving foreign trainees’ working conditions and work environment.
The foreign trainees have the right to complain over contraventions of laws or regulations under the amended law.
Yet, many of them remain under the pressure of security money or loans from the agencies that arranged their travel to Japan. Even if cases of breach of law by the organization that has accepted them are exposed, they may be forced to return home without being introduced to another organization or without exercising their right to legally complain.
Zenroren unions often receive calls or visits asking for help to solve employment-related problems. But those consultations are the tip of the iceberg. It is believed that violations of human rights and labor laws are prevalent in many workplaces. A Labor Standards Inspection Office report says that labor law violations were found at 70 percent of business establishments. About 30 young people die or commit suicide from overwork, or die in accidents every year shortly after they arrived in Japan in good health. It is not difficult to imagine how harsh conditions workers are forced to endure.
Since 2015, the government has created a status of residence for foreigners with highly professional skills. It is encouraging the acceptance of more foreign workers to solve labor shortages facing construction for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and for the shipbuilding industry. It is also encouraging acceptance of foreign workers for housework support in national strategic special zones. It has been reviewing the technical intern training program for foreign nationals. It is necessary to find what’s happening to foreign workers and to workplaces or local communities as a result of accepting more foreign workers. It is very reckless to change course to accept more foreign workers without examining the issues.
II. New category of status of residence
The government is considering adding a new type to resident status in order to accept more workers for jobs that require certain levels of professionality or skills in addition to jobs that require high levels of professionality and skills. Accepting workers with “certain levels of professionality or skills” means accepting unskilled workforce. In other words, those sectors that need to hire foreign workers to solve the labor shortages. The government says that the details would be given in a ministerial ordinance after the bill’s passage. But already 14 sectors, including agriculture, construction, nursing care, fisheries, food and other manufacturing, retailing (such as convenience stores), and the accommodation business, want to accept foreign workers and are lobbying the government. The government is saying it plans to add 500,000 foreign workers by 2025 to the present 1.28 million (as of the end of October 2017).
In giving “Type 1” status to foreign workers, relevant ministries will give a test to make sure that they have certain levels of knowledge or skills as well as a test for Japanese language proficiency to make sure that they have no language problem in Japan. Technical intern trainees with three years of experience in Japan would be regarded as having certain levels of Japanese language proficiency as well as skills and would be allowed to change status of residence without taking examination.
Skilled foreign workers would be given Type 2 status for specific knowledge and skills. While Type 1 holders would be allowed to stay in Japan for up to 5 years, but without family, Type 2 workers can stay in Japan longer, and with family, just as personnel with highly professional knowledge and skills.
Although the proposed amendments to the Immigration Control Law is mainly about labor policy, it would not be under the administrative jurisdiction of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. It would be administered by a new immigration agency, an upgrade of the present Immigration Bureau. Can it enforce the law to secure the terms of employment and working conditions and to correct any illegal practices? Will it help improve the social security system and support to living conditions, which are under the administrative jurisdiction of the Health, Wealth and Labor Ministry? That’s doubtful.
The government says administrative supervision of foreign residents of Japan would be strengthened. But it is still to even make clear requirements for organizations accepting foreign workers or registered groups supporting them. The importance of coexistence is emphatically pointed out in the meeting of ministers concerned and the Justice Ministry panel on the acceptance of foreign personnel and the comprehensive steps toward coexistence. They talk about making efforts to improve measures to support foreign residents’ secure lives. Even though they are talking about fine themes like the need to provide Japanese language education, support for living conditions, and social services, they show no budgetary resources to support the policy. How irresponsible the government is! Such a policy could bring in chaos to local governments, local communities, or workplaces.
III. Zenroren’s stance
Zenroren believes that it is too hasty to seek to accept more foreign workers by establishing new status of residence and by making use of the national strategic special zones. We demand that the government give up introducing a bill to the current extraordinary session of the Diet. The first thing to do should be to take a hard look at what’s happening on the ground and take every step to solve those problems.
(1) Basic stance: Defend foreign workers’ human rights
If workers can come and go everywhere without restrictions or choose a base they like for life and work, that would be desirable not only for the revitalization of the economy but also for international peace. In a globalized world, it would be nice if Japan becomes a country chosen by foreigners as a society that is easy to live and work.
But increasing vibrant international exchanges is only possible if all people in Japan, regardless of nationality or status of residence, are able to enjoy, and are guaranteed, human rights under the Constitution and international law. Before beginning discussion on the proposed system, it is necessary to make sure that there are no problems arising from the way foreigners work and live their lives in Japan. The first thing to do should be to take necessary measures to solve problems.
Everyone knows that already many foreigners are working in Japan. But there is a high prevalence of a lack human rights and worker rights. Foreign workers in many cases are forced to work under very bad employment and working conditions. Their dependence on the employer is heavier than Japanese workers. Their low Japanese language proficiency is a cause of their reluctant acceptance of illegal employment. The widespread violation of rights for foreign workers is a serious factor for lowering international rating of Japan. What Zenroren and its member unions have heard from foreign workers in various local areas suggests that conditions of workers should be improved before accepting more foreign workers.
(2) Considering possible impacts on domestic labor market, we call for the bad working conditions to be improved first if labor shortage is to be dealt with
It is also necessary to establish the impact on the labor market and local communities. To begin with, labor shortages in sectors for which the government is trying to introduce a new status of residence, are caused mainly by low wages and inadequate employment and working conditions. Without pay raise and improved working conditions, not only workers in Japan but foreign workers would never be better treated and would be reluctant to come to Japan.
A laisse-faire policy that leaves capital at large regarding the movement of goods, capital, and people, only benefits manpower business that helps people find low-wage jobs, doing heavy damage to the domestic job market and employment conditions and resulting in a loss of industrial vitality.
One must not forget that foreigners Japan is accepting are the same “people” as Japanese people. They should not be treated as a disposable workforce. Those who are calling for more foreign workers to be accepted are swallowing the argument of the business sector crying about a shortage of hands. But that way will only make workers and their families unhappy regardless of nationality, as clear from the economic crisis that was triggered by the collapse of Lehman Bothers, which was followed by massive dismissals of Japanese-origin foreign workers and a prevalence of human rights violations. The same mistake must not be repeated.
(3) Proposed creation of new status of residence makes everyone worry
If the new status of residence is created for foreign workers as proposed, companies (or organizations) accepting them would be required to pay them the same or higher levels of compensation and offer them certain levels of other conditions in the contract. Foreigners who have obtained the status would be allowed to change jobs within the same sector. But even under the present technical intern training program, discriminatory treatment of foreign trainees is prohibited for reasons stated above. Its effectiveness is doubtful.
The new program requires agencies accepting foreign workers to provide support to Type 1 foreigners regarding their daily lives, jobs, and social life. But the agencies accepting foreign workers may outsource support work to “registered support agencies”. The “registered support agency” is likely to be undertaken by present “supervising organizations”, which are a den of manpower brokers that take advantage of the present technical intern training program.
Under the new program, protection of foreign workers is limited, as, for example, they are not allowed to stay with their families. It is to be built on the present technical intern training program, which is often criticized as a contemporary slavery, will remain as it is. If the present government proposal is implemented, even more foreign workers will be used not as “people” but as a low-coast labor force or just for exploitation.
(4) Follow a national consensus
A handful of people are increasing their xenophobic or racist activities. But Japan falls behind in legislation of measures to prohibit such activities as well as in human rights education. This is the situation in which the government is rushing to get the bill to accept more foreign workers enacted without making efforts to form the national consensus. How outrageous it is for the government to seek to get the bill enacted in the current extraordinary session of the Diet and enforce the law from April next year!
(5) We oppose the move to hastily create the new status of residence and demand the following policy
Zenroren believes that the government should develop the ways to improve the systems to protect human rights and worker rights, and to ensure cultural diversity and programs needed to help foreign workers’ lives. Budgetary funding and tangible organization for the effort need to be established with support from public opinion. Below are Zenroren’s demands:
1) The current (2018) Extraordinary Session of the Diet must not approve the proposed creation of the new status of residence. The government should conduct an investigation into how the 2017 law on technical intern training is being implements, and how foreign workers are employed and living, and report the finding to the Diet.
2) The issue of accepting more foreign workers should be considered from the standpoint inherent in labor policy. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s labor policy council should hold tripartite deliberations by representatives of government, workers’ and employers’ organizations. In considering issues related to accepting foreign workers, labor policy council deliberation should take into account opinions from workers’ organizations of different industries as well as those of business organizations from relevant fields because issues to be discussed may be different depending on sector, industry, or type of job.
3) Foreign workers must be treated with equal rights of Japanese people. The following measures are needed to legally guarantee them equal rights:
i)For foreign workers who are accepted as trainees, authorities should make sure that their employment and working conditions are in compliance with law and of the same levels as those guaranteed to Japanese workers, and allow them to continue to be employed in line with the purpose of their intern training. The foreign technical intern training program should be terminated as early as possible.
ii) The present system allowing foreign workers to come to Japan on a foreign student program and to work excessively as “extra-status” activity should be abolished.
iii)Countries that send out workers to Japan should prohibit brokers from arranging their employment. To this end a bilateral agreement should be concluded to bar such brokers from engaging in the foreign workers’ affairs and to have the country’s labor affairs authorities oversee them.
iv)Job placement for foreign workers should be done by the HELLO WORK public employment security office. Foreign workers should have the freedom of changing place of work within the same industry and the same job category specified in the status of residence. Funding is necessary for placing personnel as well as interpreters at HELLO WORK offices to help foreigners seek help solve their problems.
v)Companies accepting foreign workers should be required to guarantee them residential and other living conditions, provide training sessions for workers who are out of work. They should be required to offer foreign workers equal opportunities and employment conditions with Japanese workers doing the same jobs.
4)The government should work together with local governments to develop policies necessary for building a society in which foreign workers and their families find it comfortable to live and coexist with Japanese people. After this the government should provide budget support to improve measures. Costs for these measures should be shouldered by companies accepting foreign workers.
5)The government should take steps to get rid of the causes of low wages and bad working conditions in sectors that are experiencing labor shortages. In particular, (a) the government should fund for helping increase wages for health care and nursing care workers. But social insurance premiums or consumption tax must not be raised. The resources for it must be secured through changing ways and means, and expenditure; (b) the government should establish measures to improve unit prices paid to subcontractors so that transactions can be done at fair prices and increase government employees who overseas fair trade.
6)The government should adopt policies to help build cultural diversity in society and improve housing, education, health care services, welfare services, pensions (ensuring the portability of programs under a bilateral agreement). Nationwide discussion should be launched to solve problems regarding Japanese language education, education in mother tongue, and translators. In that process, opinions of foreign workers should be respected.