Formerly an economics and humanities student at UCLA, Oe Kaori is now an intern for the United Nations.
The Need for Foreign Workers and Exploitation
Despite an increase in the foreign workforce, foreigners resident in Japan account for less than 2% of Japan's population, and, according to Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, foreign workers will account for only about 1.5% of Japan's total labor force over the next five years. While the word "immigration" remains taboo, openness to foreign workers has shifted in recent years. A recent survey suggests that this new approach is supported by 66% of Japanese, who believe that an increase in foreign workers is good for the country, rising to 54% by 2018, as Japan understands the potential economic impact of an aging population on the country.
It has become pretty obvious that importing unskilled foreign labor is not enough to meet Japan's labor needs at a time of declining population. The Japanese Government seems to have no interest in solving this problem, and its restrictive immigration policy, which prohibits the import of unskilled foreign workers and their children, has led to the exploitation of young people, from entertainers forced into sex work to interns exploited as cheap, incompetent labour.
Abuse of foreign workers is often due to outdated domestic laws and inconsistencies in immigration that could make it less attractive to foreign companies. This hurts foreign residents who have worked hard to build a life and business in Japan.
Given that these unskilled foreigners are usually temporary workers in factories and construction sites, they do the hard and dangerous work that Japanese workers avoid. Japan is accused of using students to fill labor shortages; foreigners on student visas, for example, are allowed to work up to 28 hours a week. Foreign workers in Japan are granted a temporary visa and are recognised as permanent immigrants. Because of the difficulties faced by foreign workers in the Gulf, migrant workers entering Japan under TITP sign contracts that bind them to a single employer, and face jail, fines, and deportation if they try to find work elsewhere.
Japanese employers have little incentive to pay low wages to workers without planned pay increases. Employers who hire low-paid foreign workers, who are attracted by comparatively high Japanese wages, see imported labor as the solution to this situation. Using recruiters "incentives to encourage and work with foreign workers to recruit foreign workers could help address the problem of low pay and poor working conditions for non-regular workers in Japan.
The Language Barrier and Japanese Work Culture
Although the growth of the foreign workforce in Japan has not been as rapid as in other OECD countries, it is necessary for Japan to maintain its ability to absorb foreigners with some level of skills, including language skills. The Japanese language and the bilingualism that goes with it, which means fluent Japanese, have taken on a challenge because it is very unlikely that the labor shortage will be solved in the short term - and because many foreigners have chosen to work outside Japan. To speak Japanese at all, new foreign workers must have it as part of their own skills.
Japan may be able to make foreigners more attractive as workers, not all newcomers are interested in Japan's work culture. Although foreigners in Japan are not expected to know all the rules and social behaviors, understanding the basic conventions can help make things run much smoother.
The strict work culture in Japan can be seen as a harsher working environment than other cultures. It is important to remember that not all part-time jobs are overloaded with employees. Even if you speak Japanese well, working in Japanese can be a strain, and working hours in Japan are also too long.
Work Reforms for Foreign Workers
The Japanese government has revised the Immigration Control and Recognition Act, which could increase the number of visas for foreign workers and their families. The amendment creates a new category of specialized professionals such as doctors, nurses, teachers and other professionals, which will enable them to remain in Japan with their special skills and to be employed in a wide range of professions. While some of them will be allowed to remain indefinitely, and many of these workers will remain forever, low-skilled workers will only be able to stay in Japan for up to five years, suggesting that they may stay forever.
The new conditions aim to give more rights to foreign workers, including the right to the same wages as Japanese-born workers, a complaint support programme and the opportunity to find new employment opportunities. This law may also include the possibility of applying for a visa or work permit under the Foreign Workers Act, as well as access to work benefits.