National

No Japan-wide minimum wage planned to tackle urban-rural gap ahead of foreign influx, says Suga

Kyodo

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga denied a media report Thursday that the government is considering introducing a minimum wage for specific industrial sectors that would apply to workers nationwide, regardless of where they live.

Earlier in the day, labor ministry officials had explained the idea to ruling lawmakers, but Suga said the ministry isn’t considering the move at this time.

The government is set to loosen restrictions on the entry of foreign workers from April to tackle serious labor shortages resulting from an aging population and falling birthrate, and the idea for the minimum wage regulation is seen as an effort to address the urban-rural wage gap that could result in the concentration of laborers in large cities.

Currently, hourly minimum wages are decided by each prefectural government based on the region’s economic situation. The figures are revised every fiscal year after a ministry advisory panel comes up with a rough target for wage hikes sometime in the summer.

In the current fiscal year ending March 31, the national average of the hourly minimum wage stood at ¥874, with Tokyo logging the highest at ¥985 and Kagoshima Prefecture marking the lowest at ¥761.

Some critics say that rural areas could continue to struggle with labor shortages unless the urban-rural minimum wage gap is properly managed.

Any system would likely cover the 14 sectors, including construction and nursing care, that are expected to see an influx of foreign workers under the new visas.

The revised immigration control law passed the Diet in December to create two new types of visas, which will be applicable to foreign workers aged 18 or older.

To apply for the No. 1 type, valid for up to five years, people will have to pass Japanese-language and technical exams. Those who have spent more than three years in the existing technical intern program will be able to obtain the status without taking the tests.

But those visa holders will not be allowed to bring family members into the country.

The No. 2 type sets a higher hurdle, with applicants required to pass a high-level skill test. But workers will be allowed to bring family members and the number of visa renewals will not be limited, opening up the possibility for them to live permanently in Japan.

By creating the new visas, the government will formally open its doors to foreign blue-collar workers for the first time. In the past, it has granted working visas only to highly skilled professionals with experience such as doctors, lawyers and teachers.

The government is estimating that the country will accept up to around 345,000 foreign workers over five years.

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