National / Social Issues | Regional voices: Chubu

More foreign workers in Mie losing jobs and homes in virus pandemic

Chunichi Shimbun

As the spread of COVID-19 infections hits the nation’s economy hard, foreign workers at manufacturers are being severely affected, with some losing their jobs and homes.

At a public employment security office in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, this month, foreign nationals visited the interpretation service counter to complete the procedures required to receive unemployment benefits.

A 31-year-old Japanese Brazilian said he had been working for an auto parts maker until the end of March, when his contract was allowed to expire.

“Since I’m a contract worker, I was told to leave immediately after the firm started reducing production,” he said.

According to the Mie Labor Bureau, the number of foreign workers in the prefecture totaled 30,316 as of the end of October. That included 10,446 temporary and contract workers, making up 34.5 percent of the total. The prefecture’s proportion of such workers is the fourth highest in the nation after Shiga, Shizuoka and Tochigi prefectures.

Mie labor bureau officials said there was no information on large-scale layoffs, including those affecting foreign workers, in the region so far. But inquiries regarding government subsidies for employment adjustments — designed to financially support firms paying allowances to workers placed on leave as a result of business downsizing — have rocketed from 258 between March 23 and 27 to 658 between March 30 and April 3, and 1,354 between April 6 and 10.

Moreover, job offers in sectors where many foreign people work have declined — the manufacturing sector saw a 18.7 percent year-on-year drop in February and the staffing sector dropped 34.9 percent from the same month the previous year.

“We hope companies will manage to keep their workers by taking measures such as reducing working days,” said a labor bureau official.

Union Mie, a labor union in Tsu, the prefectural capital, that supports workers in Japanese, English, Spanish and Portuguese, said increasing numbers of foreign workers are consulting the union regarding contract terminations by their employers.

“We are receiving three times more consultation requests than usual,” said Akai Jinbu, 38, head of the union. “There are so many that we can’t keep track of the numbers.”

According to the union, a Japanese Peruvian woman who had been dispatched to an auto parts manufacturing plant in Tsu said about 80 workers at the plant including herself were told to quit.

A Brazilian woman who had been working for a plant in the city of Kameyama, Mie Prefecture, told the union that her contract was terminated at the end of March and she didn’t know what to do since she was also asked to leave the apartment provided by her employer.

“If the situation continues as is, we will see significant job losses, even more serious than during the global financial crisis (in 2008),” Jinbu said. “There are few labor unions that offer consultation services in multiple languages. People would be in deep trouble (if those services were not available). We have to support them in maintaining their daily lives as well, since many people are losing both a job and a house.”

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published April 16.

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