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Foreign trainee work deaths data highlights safety, exploitation issues

  • January 14, 2018
  • , Kyodo News , 7:51 p.m.
  • English Press

Twenty-two foreign trainees died in work-related incidents in the three years from fiscal 2014, government data showed Sunday, indicating people brought to Japan to work may face dangerous or exploitative conditions.


While most of the 22 deaths are believed to be accidents, one resulted from overwork, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare data showed. The figures are the first government statistics released on work-related deaths among foreign trainees.


Over the three years, there were on average 475 cases of work-related accidents involving foreign trainees that were subject to compensation from industrial accident insurance and required four or more days of leave, the data showed.


Japan introduced the training program for foreign workers in 1993 with the apparent aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme, applicable to agriculture and manufacturing among other sectors, has drawn criticism at home and abroad for giving Japanese companies cover to import cheap labor.


Cases of illegally long working hours, unpaid wages, violence and other harsh conditions have also been reported.


According to the Justice Ministry, the number of foreign trainees is on the rise, with 167,641 registered in 2014, 192,655 in 2015 and 228,589 in 2016. With 22 deaths over the three year period, the ratio of work-related deaths is roughly 3.7 deaths per 100,000 trainees.


As a nation as a whole, meanwhile, labor ministry data shows that work-related deaths in all industries totaled 2,957, or 1.7 per 100,000 workers.


Akira Hatate, director of the Japan Civil Liberties Union, who is an expert on the traineesystem, points out that there could actually be more cases of workplace accidents among foreign trainees due to lax reporting standards.


He said work-related accidents are more frequent among foreign trainees because they are “unfamiliar with Japanese workplaces (and) as they are usually working for small and medium-sized companies who give little consideration to safety and health in the workplace. Trainees (also) cannot communicate fluently in Japanese.”


“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.


The latest data showing the difficult and potentially dangerous conditions faced by foreign trainees in Japan comes to light as the government is expanding the scope of the system.


Under a new law that came into effect last November, nursing care has been added to the list of fields in which foreign trainees can work.


The change was implemented as Japan looks to overcome an acute shortage of care workers in an industry that is becoming all the more important due to Japan’s rapidly aging population.



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