Low wages at the heart of foreign labor shortage woes
Japan Times -- Jan 10
There has been a lot of discussion recently about allowing more foreign workers into Japan to make up for severe labor shortages in some fields. As of the end of 2014, the labor ministry estimated there were 790,000 foreign nationals working in Japan legally, which is more than the number of national civil servants (640,000).

However, the Japan Civil Liberties Union believes that many employers don’t report the number of foreign workers they use, so the number could be more than 1 million if you go by Ministry of Justice statistics about immigration. A question that is rarely asked, however, is what sort of conditions and wages can foreign workers expect if more were permitted to immigrate?

Officially, the government has said that before it accepts foreign labor it needs to maximize the use of the current potential Japanese workforce, then it will decide which kind of foreign labor is best for boosting the domestic economy. The most favored demographic is foreign workers with good education and needed skills. However, it’s likely that such people are just as valued, if not more so, in their native countries, so it seems unlikely they would go out of their way to seek employment in Japan. After that, the government says it will bring in workers as caregivers for the aging population. The main question about these workers is: How long will they be permitted to stay, and will they be allowed to bring dependents or family members?

The principal sticking point is manual laborers who will do the work that Japanese people don’t appear to want to do. At the moment, the only non-Japanese who take on this sort of work legally are those who are already allowed to be in Japan for other reasons, as well as so-called trainees, who are supposed to be here to learn a skill they can take back to their respective countries. However, it’s generally assumed that they are here mainly to fill manual labor positions in factories or on farms, and for pay that is below the minimum wage. As part of its business growth strategy, the government is now considering extending trainee visas from three to five years.

But even non-Japanese who are legal immigrants and can work freely are often taken advantage of by the system.

News source: Japan Times
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