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Officials on Friday proposed establishing an oversight body to tackle human rights abuses committed against foreigners working in Japan as trainees, as the Abe administration seeks to expand the troubled program to fight growing labor shortages.

Introduced in 1993, the Foreign Training Internship Program has been criticized as being a cover for employing low-cost laborers from less developed countries. There have been reports of harsh working conditions, low wages and rights abuses such as trainees being confined, banned from contacting others or forced to return to their home countries.

The program supervisory body would be empowered to search domestic organizations that place trainees and companies that employ them, the administration said in a report compiled by a panel of experts.

The oversight unit would also provide various forms of support to trainees not currently available.

Legislation to enhance oversight is expected to be introduced in the current Diet session.

Most trainees come to Japan under contracts between overseas recruitment groups and domestic recipient organizations. They are then hired by businesses under contracts with the recipient organizations.

Under the proposed changes, the recipient organizations would be licensed and employers that are found to engage in irregularities would be subject to fines and could be named publicly.

The oversight body would also have a consulting office with staff who are capable of speaking the trainees’ languages. It would also provide temporary asylum and look for alternative employers if necessary, according to the report.

Around 155,000 people, many from China and Vietnam, were taking part in the program as of late 2013.

The report proposes that employers recognized to have good practices would be allowed to hire trainees for up to five years, up from the current maximum of three years.

The report also cited the need for flexibility in adding job categories to suit demands that differ between regions. A total of 68 categories are currently covered. The government is hoping to add nursing care, amid a growing worker shortages in that sector.

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