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Foreign workers in coronavirus predicament seeking way out

Nishio, Aichi Pref., Sept. 23 (Jiji Press)–An increasing number of foreign workers in Japan, mostly under fixed-term employment contracts, are crying for help after losing their jobs amid the coronavirus crisis.


Workers from foreign countries see the situation surrounding their employment getting tougher due to the pandemic, which had eliminated more than 50,000 jobs for them as of the end of August.


In Aichi Prefecture, home to the Japanese automobile industry, for instance, a number of auto parts suppliers have been severely hit by sharp drops in orders due to slumping vehicle sales worldwide due to the coronavirus pandemic and started to terminate contracts with workers with foreign nationals, notably Japanese Brazilians.


The central prefecture has the second largest foreign population in Japan after Tokyo, including some 62,000 people from Brazil, or one-third of Brazilians living in the country, as of the end of 2019.


Facing the tough employment situation, also brought on by U.S.-China trade disputes, nearly 100 workers, mainly foreigners, newly became members of the Nagoya Fureai Union over the past year for having collective bargaining with their employers.


“Many foreign workers don’t know contract terms because they can’t read contracts,” said Shuichiro Tsurumaru, who heads the individual workers’ union based in Nagoya, capital of the prefecture.


Gilberto Yutaka Nakao, 61, a second-generation Japanese Brazilian who has worked for an auto parts maker in the city of Nishio for over 20 years, joined the union after he was told by the company at the end of April that his contract would be terminated because he had turned 60, a decision he could not accept.


As a union member, Nakao brought the company’s management to the bargaining table seeking continued employment, and successfully returned to work two months later after winning the management’s agreement to convert him to an indefinite-term worker in line with a legal provision that allows a person working under a direct fixed-term employment contract with the same employer for at least five years to apply for the conversion to an open-ended contract.

While expressing appreciation for being able to keep working in Japan, Nakao said foreign and Japanese workers should be treated equally. At his company, about 100 people had their employment contracts terminated as of the end of July and are now preparing lawsuits.


People familiar with the matter said that in many contract termination cases plaintiffs ended up winning only settlement money as their employment contracts were fixed-term.


Nakao is thus determined to continue his activities as a union member to help foreigners who have lost their jobs.


Since the immigration control law was revised in 1990, when many migrant workers came from Brazil, Japanese firms have shortened the contracted employment period for fixed-term workers to three months so they can adjust labor force based on their quarterly production outlooks, Kiyoto Tanno, professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University, pointed out.


The expert on labor problems facing Japanese Brazilians also noted that “the prevailing management policy of reducing inventories as much as possible is leading to the unstable employment situation for them.”


Then he suggested that employers “sign foreign workers to annual contracts at least.”

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