• Kyodo

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The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has dealt a heavy blow to the manufacturing, farming and fishing industries in rural areas, as it has halted the arrival of Chinese trainees they have relied on for labor.

A textile manufacturer in Fukui Prefecture said one of the roughly 20 Chinese trainees at the company has been unable to re-enter Japan after leaving for Lunar New Year late January, while the arrivals of five new trainees from this spring have been postponed due to Japan’s entry ban covering parts of China and elsewhere.

“It may be just a few people, but for small and midsize businesses it means a significant drop in manpower,” said an official at the company.

“We’re also thinking about hiring Vietnamese trainees, but that will only be realized at year-end. It’s hard to operate with a limited number of people,” he said.

Other companies in the prefecture have also consulted the local labor bureau after facing similar problems.

As of the end of October, 1,440 Chinese trainees were in Fukui, most of them at textile manufacturers, according to the labor bureau.

A clothing manufacturer in Gifu Prefecture was also worried about the three Chinese trainees it was expecting to newly hire in July.

“We want this (outbreak) to end soon. If it continues, small businesses won’t be able to withstand it,” said Shuji Miyamoto, the company’s president.

An association of clothing manufacturers in the central prefecture said a Chinese trainee working at a sewing factory has been unable to re-enter Japan, dealing a blow to its operator, which has less than 10 employees.

Japan introduced the foreign technical internship program in 1993 with the aim of transferring manufacturing and other skills to developing countries.

But Kim Myong Jung, a researcher at the NLI Research Institute specializing in the employment of foreign nationals in Japan, said such trainees have been making up for the shortage of workers at small and midsize companies.

“If the current situation drags on, the shortage of labor will become even more serious,” Kim added.

Fishing and farming industries in Japan face the same situation.

A seafood processing plant in Esashi, Hokkaido, which was scheduled to accept trainees in around May, said the plan is now on hold, while a plant in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, reported a similar problem.

In Nagano Prefecture, plans for 437 Chinese trainees to join local lettuce farmers have been canceled.

“Manpower is needed during the lettuce harvest season starting in mid-May,” said a prefectural official in charge of farming promotion. Without sufficient workers, “farmers will end up disposing of their products.”

The Central Union of Agricultural Cooperative found in its February survey that plans to have a total of about 360 Chinese trainees in nine prefectures are now on hold.

In the wake of the outbreak, some trainees from Cambodia and Vietnam have canceled their plans to work in Japan, the cooperative said.

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