Ja­pan en­acts con­tro­ver­sial law to ac­cept for­eign work­ers

The Asian Age - - Front Page -

Tokyo, Dec. 8: In a con­tro­ver­sial move to ad­dress chronic labour short­ages, Ja­pa­nese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s rul­ing coali­tion early Satur­day rammed through leg­is­la­tion to bring more blue- col­lar for­eign work­ers into the coun­try

The bill was en­acted af­ter the Up­per House gave ap­proval de­spite a raft of crit­i­cism by Op­po­si­tion par­ties fol­low­ing its pas­sage through the Lower House in late Novem­ber. Both cham­bers are con­trolled by Mr Abe’s rul­ing camp.

Un­der the new sys­tem, the govern­ment plans to bring in as many as 345,000 for­eign work­ers in con­struc­tion, food ser­vices, nurs­ing and other des­ig­nated sec­tors for five years.

“We aim at start­ing it in April next year be­cause we need to swiftly launch the new sys­tem in or­der to deal with the cur­rent labour short­age,” Mr Abe told Par­lia­ment on Thurs­day.

But Op­po­si­tion par­ties claimed that the law fails to ad­dress the po­ten­tial im­pact on Ja­pa­nese so­ci­ety of new for­eign labour, and does not pro­tect for­eign work­ers’ rights.

In a bid to block its pas­sage, Op­po­si­tion par­ties sub­mit­ted cen­sure mo­tions against Mr Abe and Jus­tice Min­is­ter Takashi Ya­mashita, but they were eas­ily re­jected by the rul­ing bloc.

The law al­lows for­eign na­tion­als with skills in sec­tors fac­ing par­tic­u­larly se­vere short­ages to ob­tain five- year visas, which would not al­low them to bring their fam­i­lies.

For­eign work­ers in those fields who hold stronger qual­i­fi­ca­tions and pass a more dif­fi­cult Ja­pa­nese lan­guage test will be able to ob­tain a visa that can be ex­tended in­def­i­nitely, even­tu­ally lead­ing to res­i­dency, and will be able to bring over fam­ily.

But there have been ques­tions about whether an in­flux of for­eign work­ers will de­press wages, how the work­ers will be in­cor­po­rated into Ja­pan’s so­cial se­cu­rity sys­tem, and wor­ries about ex­ploita­tion of mi­grant labour.

Many of Ja­pan’s low- skilled for­eign work­ers are in the

coun­try un­der a so­called “tech­ni­cal train­ing” pro­gramme, which has re­peat­edly faced al­le­ga­tions of abuse.

“We should not cre­ate a new sys­tem hastily with­out re­view­ing the tech­ni­cal train­ing pro­gramme in which prob­lems are mount­ing,” Yoshifu Arita, an Op­po­si­tion law­maker, told Par­lia­ment. Busi­nesses have long lob­bied for looser im­mi­gra­tion rules, say­ing they strug­gle to find work­ers in a coun­try where un­em­ploy­ment hov­ers around 2.5 per cent.

The chronic labour short­ages are only wors­en­ing as Ja­pan’s age­ing and shrink­ing pop­u­la­tion means a de­clin­ing pool of work­ers.

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