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Inspectors link Cambodian trainee’s depression to workplace abuse

Kyodo

Labor standard inspectors have determined that a Cambodian man working under a government trainee program suffered depression after he was verbally and physically abused by his Japanese co-workers, a union that helped with the 34-year-old’s case said Tuesday.

While working as a plumber for a construction company in Tokyo, the trainee’s finger was severed by an electric saw, but his employer did not immediately file for public compensation for a work-related accident, according to the union.

The Cambodian man came to Japan in June 2014. His co-workers routinely called him names, including “idiot,” and hit him on the helmet, the union said. After he was injured in September 2015, he was sometimes accused of hurting himself on purpose to receive compensation, according to the union.

No longer able to put up with the abuse, the man left his dormitory and sought refuge at a sibling’s residence in Japan in March 2016, the union said. He was subsequently diagnosed with depression. But after his employer demanded that he return to Cambodia because his work contract had ended, the man joined the Zentouitsu Workers Union in Tokyo, which helped with his case.

In August 2016, a labor standards inspection office in Tokyo determined his injury was work-related. Another labor standards inspection office determined in June this year that the man’s depression was also caused by his work environment as he was subjected to extreme forms of abuse and bullying.

In a statement filed with labor standards inspectors, the Cambodian man said: “We trainees are tormented by worries and fears that if we ever protest, we would immediately be deported. So we had to endure unreasonable treatment.”

The government introduced the Technical Intern Training Program for foreigners in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the program has faced criticism at home and abroad as being a cover for importing cheap labor. There have also been numerous reports of trainee abuse, including some being forced to work illegally long hours and not being paid wages.