The tragic reality of foreign trainees in Japan

Release of fatality figures shows that trainees are more vulnerable than regular workers

The tragic reality of foreign trainees in Japan

Twenty-two foreign trainees in Japan died over a three-year period, mostly due to workplace accidents, with at least one death by overwork (karoshi), the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

The number translates to a ratio of 3.7 deaths per 100,000 trainees, which is significantly higher than the 1.7 per 100,000 workers death rate in all industries in Japan, reported Kyodo News.

In the same period, 475 cases of work-related accidents subject to compensation were recorded.

The training program for foreign workers was launched in 1993 aiming to transfer Japanese know-how – especially in agriculture and manufacturing -- to developing countries. It has been criticised, however, for being a cover for importing cheap labour.

The training program has also been faulted for illegal long working hours, unpaid wages, violence and other harsh conditions.

According to the director of the Japan Civil Liberties Union, Akira Hatate, it is possible the number could be higher because of the government’s lax reporting standards.

“There are also cases where trainees, who cannot work due to an injury, are forced to return home. Concealment of work-related accidents is rampant,” Hatate said.

“(Non-Japanese are) unfamiliar with Japanese workplaces (and) they are usually working for small and mid-sized companies that give little consideration to safety and health in the workplace.”

Trainees also cannot communicate fluently in Japanese, said Hatate, who is also an expert on the trainee system.

Shiro Sasaki, secretary-general of the Zentoitsu Workers Union, said foreigners do not know about the workers’ compensation system.

“There are many firms which think that things could just be settled by having the trainees return to their homeland,” Sasaki said.

The way these firms treat their foreign trainees would never be acceptable to Japanese workers, he added.

The latest data is significant given the government’s expansion of the trainee system amid labour shortage, a greying population and contentious immigration rules.

In November, a new law added nursing care to the list of fields in which foreign trainees can work in.

Related stories:
SMRT director fined jail over trainee deaths
Forty percent of foreign workers in Japan feel discriminated against

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