• Chunichi Shimbun

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Due to the spread of COVID-19, about 100 workers who were dispatched to a Sharp Corp. factory in the town of Taki, Mie Prefecture, lost their jobs earlier this month. Around 80% of them were Philippine nationals.

The number of foreign workers in Japan who have been fired or furloughed is growing. Such workers tend to be in a weaker position, and their families are often affected as well.

“My daughter and son lost their jobs at the same time, and we are at loss as to what to do next,” said Raquel Garcia, 45, who worked at the Mie factory for nine years. “I wanted to transfer money to my children in the Philippines,” she added, dejectedly.

As a third-generation Japanese-Filipino, Garcia came to Japan with her younger brother in 2003, leaving her husband and five children in the Philippines. At first she worked on assembly lines for trucks in a factory in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, then was dispatched to the Mie factory in 2012 to work for a subcontractor of Sharp.

Garcia still has two daughters in high school in the Philippines. The other three of her five children are now in Japan, and two of them also had been working at the Mie factory. Garcia was made redundant once in 2015 due to deteriorating business conditions, but was able to return to work the next year after winning a lawsuit that sought for her to be reinstated by the company.

Nevertheless, the number of days she could work had declined since 2018 because Sharp increased offshore operations. In some periods last year, she only worked twice a week.

She was told in mid-October by the subcontractor she works for that she will be fired again in mid-November, apparently due to production cuts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The city and prefectural governments have started to provide welfare benefits for workers in need.

“The situation has all changed at once, and I’m really sad. At my age, it’s very hard to find a new job,” said Garcia. She feels the situation is especially challenging for her since she doesn’t have a driver’s license that would enable her to drive to work and has trouble reading and writing in Japanese.

“Workplaces with bus services are limited, and it’s hard to find a job in the Philippines as well,” she said, pessimistically. She hopes the government will establish support for those in her position, so she can get a loan to attend driving school.

Garcia is among around 60 Filipino members of the Sharp Pinoy Unity (SPU) labor union to be made redundant. On Nov. 11, about 30 members gathered to discuss how to apply for payment waiver for their national health insurance premiums and to check the schedule for obtaining benefits from their employment insurance. At the session, they also reviewed how to write hiragana letters.

“Some of the workers were made redundant together with their families, so the impact on their lives is significant,” said Akai Jinbu, secretary-general for Union Mie, the SPU’s parent organization.

The latest moves are not the first time Sharp has tried to reduce the number of workers at its factories. Two years ago, over 3,000 workers, including Brazilians who worked for one of Sharp’s subcontractors, either left their jobs or were released from service at a factory in the city of Kameyama. According to Union Mie, many of them were single and had only been working for a few years.

This time, however, staff who had been employed for 10 years or more at the Mie factory and who also had family members on the payroll were targeted, the labor union said.

“The impact that it will have on each worker is bigger this time,” said Jinbu, pointing out that the company is using foreign workers who have worked for the firm for years to adjust employment levels when business conditions are rough.

What is happening at the Sharp factory is just the tip of the iceberg. About 18,000 foreign nationals were looking for jobs in June, up 89% from the same month last year, according to data gathered from public employment offices across the nation compiled by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

“It seems that the state of emergency back in April and May prevented people from going to public employment services, which led to a sharp rise in June,” said a health ministry official.

“We want to pay attention to foreign workers, especially because December is when termination of employment is most likely to occur,” said the official, noting that many foreign workers are employed on a nonregular basis, including temporary workers and part-timers.

Due to the situation, the ministry shifted the schedule of their monthlong campaign to inform people about issues faced by foreign workers, which is usually held in June, to November.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Nov. 12.

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