Japan eyes increasing foreign construction workers ahead of Olympics

Kyodo

Japan may let more foreign workers from Asia work at construction sites under an on-the-job training system ahead of the construction boom in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, officials said Friday.

The Liberal Democratic Party-led government is considering relaxing a range of curbs on the entry of Vietnamese and other Asian workers to cope with the labor shortage in the construction market, they said, adding that they hope any relaxation won’t lead to the exploitation of cheap foreign labor at the expense of the domestic workforce.

Measures under consideration include extending the on-the-job training period to five years from the current three.

Law revisions are expected to start this year. With the deregulation, the construction industry may become more dependent on foreign workers.

At present, about 150,000 foreigners are working in Japan with entry permits under the on-the-job training system, including 10,000 to 15,000 in the construction sector. Under current regulations, the system is not applicable to simple labor and limited to skilled labor such as assembly of reinforced steel for buildings and the operation of construction machinery.

The LDP-led government may also allow foreign workers who have already returned home after the three-year training period to re-enter Japan as trainees, the officials said.

Another option being weighed is the doubling or tripling of the upper limit on the number of foreign trainees per company, now restricted to around 5 percent of each firm’s workforce.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism expects construction for stadiums and other Olympic facilities to get under way in 2015.

“We should start revising the system as quickly as possible by taking into account the time needed for immigration authorities to examine applications” from foreign workers to enter Japan, a senior LDP lawmaker said.

But there are also concerns that some companies might seek to take advantage of the revised regulations to cut their regular workforce by hiring foreign trainees for simple labor.

At present, some 70 percent of foreign construction workers under the on-the-job training system are from China.

The government is keen to accept more workers, especially from Vietnam, which is enjoying a construction boom due to a growing number of Japanese companies relocating production bases to that country.