• Kyodo, Staff Report


A Vietnamese man who took part in a controversial government-run foreign trainees program in Japan believes much of the criticism leveled against it are borne out, judging by a survey he conducted of more than three dozen fellow workers.

The Technical Intern Training Program is billed as a way to transfer valuable skills to foreign laborers. But it has been widely panned as abusing a source of cheap labor for the benefit of Japanese farmers, manufacturers and others, without giving participants the benefit of rights conferred by law.

Last fall, 27-year-old Nguyen Huu Quy, who was at that time an exchange student at Kyoto-based Ryukoku University, asked for evaluations of the program from more than 100 of his compatriots who, like himself, had participated in the program. He received replies from 38, with some declining to participate because they feared retribution from their employers.

“Many of them return to their home country with a negative impression of Japan,” he said, adding that this is probably damaging to bilateral relations.

His findings suggest that most participants fall prey to firms purporting to offer training, but that in fact abuse a source of cheap labor to meet their manpower needs.

Vietnam is one of the main sources of the roughly 167,000 trainees who served in the program up to the end of 2014. The program has run since 1993 and offers work experience in 69 areas, including farming, fisheries, manufacturing and construction.

One of the philosophies behind it is the transfer of skills to trainees of all ages who may go on to contribute to their home country’s economic development and simultaneously tighten its ties with Japan.

Of the 38 respondents from the survey, which was conducted in October and November, 37 said they had a very positive or quite positive impression of Japan before coming to the country. But the figure fell to 22 after joining the program. As many as 14 respondents said their experience in Japan has left a bitter taste.

In the free comments section, respondents criticized the apprenticeship, saying that they were only offered dull, routine work at low wages and that the skills they learned would be irrelevant to their future careers.

Many respondents were also dissatisfied with the living conditions, saying that interns are “crammed into a tiny space they have to share with a number of other participants in the project.”

Nguyen said his findings should be a wake-up call for the Japanese government and point to the need to overhaul the system.

“I want to convey this message to society,” Nguyen said.

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