Supporters of foreign workers call for equal pay and permanent residence in Japan

Kyodo

Activists on Wednesday called for the creation of a permanent resident visa for blue-collar foreign workers and equal pay as their Japanese co-workers as the country aims to bring in more laborers from overseas.

In a statement released at a gathering held at the Diet, the participants also called for the cancellation of the controversial government-sponsored job training program, under which many foreign trainees are believed to have been exploited.

The Tokyo event was organized by the nonprofit organization Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan at a time when the government and ruling parties are pushing ahead to pass a bill that would greatly expand the number of foreign workers in the country.

Deliberation over the bill started at the Judicial Committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday despite resistance from opposition parties, with the government hoping to see its passage during the ongoing parliamentary session through Dec. 10.

The government had already been under fire for being slow to provide detailed data on the estimated number of foreign workers that would enter Japan under the new plan.

And it further angered opposition parties after the Justice Ministry was found to have released faulty survey results on foreign trainees who quit their jobs, wrongfully stating that 87 percent of them left “in pursuit of better payment” when, in fact, 67 percent of the respondents said they had left due to “low wages.”

The organization’s chairman, Ippei Torii, called for the government to engage in parliamentary debate based on the “facts.”

Lawyer Shoichi Ibusuki, who represents a group of attorneys that help foreign workers, noted that the envisioned immigration system includes a new visa status that does not allow foreign workers to bring their families with them and fails to provide sufficient day-to-day support.

“They are real people, not just a workforce. The bill carries problems in various aspects,” Ibusuki said before some 200 people at the gathering.

A 38-year-old Chinese man shared his experience while working as a technical intern trainee at a farm in Tochigi Prefecture.

“I did 150 hours of overwork a month, and it was equivalent to unpaid work. I doubt newcomers to Japan would really be protected,” he said.

Japan introduced the training program for foreign nationals in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But it has faced criticism at home and abroad as a cover for importing cheap labor.

Japan has in principle only accepted highly skilled professionals in such fields as medicine and law. But in reality, foreign trainees and students have also been taken on.

The country is in need of more foreign laborers due to its aging population and low birthrate.