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Talk of expanding foreign workers 'too hasty': business lobby chairman

Japan Association of Corporate Executives Chairman Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, left, shakes hands with Kengo Sakurada, who will shortly replace him, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Nov. 16, 2018. (Mainichi/Shiho Fujibuchi)
Rikio Kozu, president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, is seen at the prime minister's office prior to a follow-up meeting on work-style reform on Oct. 15, 2018. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- The head of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) called for in-depth discussions on the expansion of the acceptance of foreign labors, a key issue in the current Diet session, pointing out the ongoing debate is "too hasty."

Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of the major business lobby, told top officials of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) that debate on the issue "appears a bit too hasty and sloppy" and that the issue is a "far sighted national policy."

While the business community welcomes the move to expand the acceptance of foreign workers amid a serious labor shortage, his comment reflects business operators' concerns about the lack of discussions on the matter in the Diet.

Under the new system, workers with certain knowledge and experience could apply for category 1 status allowing the holder to work in Japan for a maximum of five years, unaccompanied by family members. Those with expert skills could receive the renewable category 2 status, which also allows the accompaniment of spouses and children. Applicants for these categories must pass language and skills tests.

Rengo President Rikio Kozu, who attended the Nov. 19 meeting with Kobayashi, said he agreed with the business leader's views. "I shared his concerns that it's too hasty," Kozu told reporters after the meeting.

However, Kobayashi actually complained that a mistake the government made in tallying the results of the hearings of foreign technical intern trainees who fled from their workplaces and other problems have delayed Diet deliberations on the issue.

Kobayashi said whether the Diet can vote on the bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to introduce the new system during the ongoing extraordinary Diet session that ends on Dec. 10 "depends on its content."

However, he expressed hope that the government will begin accepting foreign workers in some fields on an experimental basis in advance of fully implementing the new system, noting that the labor shortage is becoming increasingly serious.

"There's no time to lose. There are various ways to cope with the situation (make up for the labor shortage) such as launching provisional measures to accept foreign workers on an experimental basis," he said.

Kobayashi then proposed that foreign workers be accepted in some limited fields from fiscal 2019 that begins next April and closely examine challenges before working out a detailed plan within three years.

In a related development, Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), urged the Diet to swiftly deliberate the bill and implement the new system.

"Policy measures announced by the government match Keidanren's direction. We hope that the bill will be deliberated swiftly so that the new system will be implemented at an early date," Nakanishi told a news conference on Nov. 19.

The Keidanren leader also underscored the need for debate on how to create an environment in which foreign workers can work comfortably in Japan by helping them overcome language barriers and differences in lifestyles.

"I don't think Japan will be flooded with foreigners seeking work in the country. Such a situation is unlikely considering the current environment," he said.

Akio Mimura, chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, urged the Diet to launch substantial deliberations on the bill to help make up for the serious labor shortage.

"Japan has been driven into a serious situation in which the country can't grow unless the labor shortage is eliminated through all possible measures," Mimura said.

The chamber represents numerous small- and medium-sized businesses that face a particularly serious shortage of workers.

(Japanese original by Mikako Yokoyama, Business News Department)

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