A total of 174 foreign nationals working as part of the technical intern program died in the eight years between 2010 and 2017 due to accidents, illness and other reasons, the Justice Ministry said Thursday.
The labor ministry also said the deaths of 125 foreign workers, including trainees, over 10 years were work-related.
The figures were disclosed during a meeting put together by lawmakers from opposition parties that have been urging the government to investigate technical interns’ deaths, pointing to the possibility they were subjected to harsh working conditions.
The revelations raise questions about the working conditions of foreign trainees at a time when the country is preparing to accept more overseas workers from April to address the nation’s labor crunch.
The opposition parties are demanding the government improve such situations before many of the workers switch their statuses under the new visa system.
Of the 174 who died, 132 were men and 42 were women. The deaths included suicides and cases in which the cause of death was not clear.
By nationality, 98 were Chinese, 46 were Vietnamese and 12 were Indonesian. Other people who died were from the Philippines, Thailand, Myanmar, Mongolia and Laos.
People in their 20s accounted for the largest portion with 118, followed by 48 people in their 30s. Five were teens and three were in their 40s.
Many of the deaths resulted from accidents that happened while workers were operating factory machines such as metal cutters or timber processing equipment. Among the reasons not related to accidents, health problems such as heart attack and stroke were most common. There were 13 suicides.
Two technical interns died in the March 2011 tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
The data comes a week after an opposition lawmaker disclosed the deaths of 69 foreign trainees between 2015 and 2017 based on a Justice Ministry tally.
The ministry has said it will look into the matter.
Japan introduced the training program for foreign nationals in 1993 with the stated aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the program has been criticized for providing cover for companies to import cheap labor.
As of the end of October last year, about 258,000 foreign trainees were working in Japan.
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