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The relatives of a Chinese man who died of heart failure last year sought compensation Friday at a local labor standards inspection office, claiming his long working hours as a trainee at a plating company in Ibaraki Prefecture killed him.

The alleged case of karōshi, or death by overwork, is the first in Japan to seek damages for the death of a foreign trainee, a group of lawyers dealing in such issues said.

Jiang Xiaodong, from Jiangsu Province, died in his sleep in a dormitory in June last year at the age of 31. He came to Japan in December 2005 on a vocational training program.

The plating company, situated in Itako, forced Jiang to work long hours — as many as 100 hours of overtime a month — even though he wasn’t supposed to work overtime under the training system, according lawyer Shoichi Ibuski, who is representing his relatives.

From his second year onward, when Jiang became an apprentice, his overtime work surged to 150 hours, with only two days off a month. He was paid ¥114,000 a month, and ¥400 to ¥820 per hour for overtime.

Under the training system, established in 1993, foreigners are put through a year of training and promoted to apprentices in their second year.

Ibuski said Jiang was unable to resist the harsh labor because he had handed over around ¥140,000 to his agency in China as guarantee money and “feared that he would be forced to return home and (the agency) would take his money.”

His wife, Feng Zhu, was quoted as saying by the lawyer that he called to tell her he “gets tired after working long hours,” and that she was dissatisfied his Japanese agency’s claims that the company forced him to work only 20 hours’ overtime a month.

In fiscal 2008, 34 foreign vocational trainees and apprentices died from accidents and disease at work, the highest number on record, according to the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization.