Discrimination Against foreigners of Japanese ancestry
by TAJIMA Yoko
In 1990, the Japanese government revised the Immigration Law and decided to grant residence permission to people of Japanese ancestry living in foreign countries. If they are second generation Japanese, they are allowed to stay here for three years as the "spouses or equivalent" of Japanese. If they are third generation, they are allowed to stay for a year as a "regular resident," and their spouses and children are also allowed to stay for one year, under the same title. Behind the decision is the implicit intention of making workers available for unpopular sectors of industry.
Officially, the Japanese government doesn't admit unskilled foreign workers. A lot of foreigners, however, are working at factories or construction sites or as barmaids after they are admitted to Japan as professional entertainers, students or industrial trainees. Apparently they are more or less favorably accepted as a supplementary labor force by the sectors suffering a labor shortage. It also seems that the government counts on their informal penetration into the labor market. This expectation is typified in a comment made by an official regarding the revised law. He said: "we hope that the revised law will attract young people of Japanese descent to our country." This comment is rooted in the assumption that Japanese descendants will adapt themselves easily to Japanese customs. Early on the government found this assumption to be an illusion. In fact third generation descendants don't share any cultural inheritance from their parents or grandparents, nor understand their grandparent's language.
The government should start by determining whether our country requires foreign workers, and if so we should establish and implement guidelines, irrespective of ancestry.' According to the official statistics, 1,415,136 foreigners were registered here in 1996. About 250,000 of them are Latin Americans, with some 200,000 from Brazil. Most of the Latin Americans are allowed to stay as people of "Japanese ancestry." Although they came here to their ancestors' mother country, encouraged by the revised immigration law, they found Japanese society unprepared to accept them. As a matter of course, a lot of problems, including housing, customs, language, etc., arose for them around the country. Then there came a lot of brokers who pursue profit by dispatching foreigners to factories. They take a dispatching fee from the employers and a brokering fee from the wages they pay to the workers they dispatch.
This interference by brokers results in reduced or unpaid wages and unfair or illegal withholding of wages, and destabilizes worker-employer relations. Another serious problem is labor accidents. When a dispatched foreign worker suffers a labor accident, his broker, who is his direct employer, is required to report the case to the LSIO and apply for certification as a work-related accident, thereby acquiring insurance cover for the worker.
Officers of the LSIO then visit the workplace, inquire of the broker and his client company about the causes of the accident, and examine accident preventive measures. Fearful that their clients would dislike such investigations and thus loose favour, brokers tend to neglect to report accidents, and what's worse, pay a minimum of compensation to the victims. Companies, in turn, leave such cases to the brokers in an attempt to hide their involvement. Foreign workers, who are generally unfamiliar with the Japanese labor accident compensation system, do not understand the procedures involved, and so are unable to claim their relevant rights.
In principle, the Japanese labor laws, including labor insurance laws, apply to all workers, regardless of their nationality or immigration status. In fact, however, foreign victims are faced with various difficulties and fail to exercise their rights as prescribed in the labor laws. Even foreigners with fingers crashed by a press machine are left without any compensation for lost wages. In recent years more and more foreigners have been calling or visiting our OSHC offices looking for advice. To resolve these cases, we negotiate with the employers on behalf of the workers, and urge the LSIO's to investigate such cases. Some cases have been brought to court in order to make companies assume responsibility for hazardous working conditions.
The policy adopted by the Japanese government to introduce foreigners into the labor market without securing their rights, not only destabilizes worker-employer relations, but fosters misbehavior on the part of employers by encouraging irregular employment relations. This trend is a significant challenge to all workers. It provides an impetus for all to support our new friends and help them improve their working environment. and conditions.
JOSHRC NEWSLETTER No.12 (Nov, 1997)
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