Migrant Workers’ Plight in Japan
10 July 2007 7:00 pm

There has been heated debate on how to improve the current system for bringing foreign migrant workers into Japan. Due to the one-year training program that denies migrant workers of labour rights and abuses broker organisations, migrant workers have been subjected to various exploitation and human rights violations.
Heated debate has not ceased for the last several months between the Japanese Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Economy regarding the revision of the current programme for foreign workers. While the Ministry of Justice is proposing to abolish the one-year training programme, the Ministry of Economy is calling for its continuance with tighter restrictions on employers.1 Under the current system, migrant workers are expected to work for one year as trainees instead of employees which exposes them to the possibility of exploitation as they are not protected by labour laws until their second year of employment.

While the primary purpose of accepting foreign workers into Japan has been to train them with skills that they can later use in their own countries, problems in the current system have allowed Japanese companies to use these workers as cheap labour. The Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO), that oversees the foreign trainee programme, is not allowed to directly accept requests from Japanese companies for foreign workers—instead the companies need to go through a local organisation such as a trade association.2 These “broker” organisations are reported to have received illegal commissions from the applicants.3

Under the proposal of the Justice Ministry, companies and brokers that have received commissions from the applicant or have confiscated passports will not be able to send or receive trainees. 4 The ministry also promises to address the increasing number of sexual harassment cases among migrant workers.5

While it remains to be seen whether the current one-year training program will continue or if any changes made in the current system will ensure the rights of migrant workers in Japan, it is a step in the right direction as both ministries are aware that the current system is not entirely benefiting the foreign workers. Since Japan continues to rely heavily on foreign labour, the country should counteract its xenophobia and ratify the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families to ensure the human rights of all migrant workers.

“Revised Program for Foreign Trainees Proposed”, http://search/japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20070516a6.html

“Immigrant Workers in Japan Caught in a Racket”, http://japanfocus.org/products/details/2464

“Govt to Tighten Guidelines on Foreign Trainees”, http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20070618TDY01006.htm