By Takashi Ono
More and more foreign workers are being laid off due to the new coronavirus outbreak. Labor unions have offered consultations to over 2,000 foreign workers [regarding this issue] so far. Many are temporary workers, who are the first to lose their jobs. With cuts in flights out of Japan, these foreigners are not able to go back to their home countries. Many such workers are in distress with nowhere to go.
Kaori Nakao, a Brazilian-Japanese woman who worked at an automobile parts factory as a temporary worker, was notified by the company that she would be dismissed at the end of the fiscal year. The company’s decreased production output was the reason. The company is also pressing her to leave company-sponsored housing, saying that the electricity and gas in the housing will be turned off.
Akai Jimbu, secretary-general of the labor union in Tsu City which Nakao consulted, says that there has been a sudden increase in consultations regarding coronavirus-related labor issues. Those from foreign workers have increased in particular. Since March 2020, the labor union has received over 300 requests for consultation, and it expects to have even more in April.
Jimbu says that the layoff situation will be a far more serious than during the 2008 financial crisis. Many foreign workers are nonregular hires. Some have received an advance from their employer to pay for their travel costs to Japan, and some support their families in their home country. Jimbu says it is important to start a system where all workers are compensated regardless of their nationality, in place of employment adjustment subsidies, which are paid through companies.
The labor union Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union (Tozen; located in Shinjuku, Tokyo) launched an English-speaking coronavirus hotline in mid-March. The hotline receives nearly 100 inquiries a day via phone or social media, totaling about 2,000 inquiries thus far. Many of the inquiries concern job loss, decreased income, or lack of compensation for business closure.
According to health ministry reports, there were a total of 1.66 million foreign workers in Japan, including students and technical intern trainees, as of October 2019. Of that number, 29.1% work in manufacturing, which has been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak and the resulting disruptions in supply chains. Some 12.5% work in hospitality and food management, which have experienced a drastic decline in customer numbers because of requests to stay home. (Abridged)