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Gov't may accept more foreign workers to cover labor shortage

The government is mulling legislation to boost the number of foreign workers in Japan to make up for a labor shortage as it approaches the first meeting of the council for the realization of work style reform as early as late September, it has emerged.

    Other issues the government intends to address in the council, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, include the materialization of equal pay for equal work, reform of long working hours, "education that does not allow disparity to become entrenched," and an "environment in which it is easy to also raise children or provide nursing care while working."

    The government will compile an "action plan for work style reform" incorporating concrete measures by the end of March next year, and is preparing to submit a series of related bills to implement them.

    The acceptance of foreign workers is currently limited to those in specialized fields, which includes doctors and researchers. There are also technical trainees and others, bringing the total number of foreign nationals employed in Japan to around 900,000. However, due to a declining birth rate and aging of the population, calls have been rising mainly within the Liberal Democratic Party to accept foreign laborers as Japan is expected to face a future labor shortage. In May, the party suggested promoting foreign workers in care work, where there is a serious shortage of labor, as well as in farming and the hotel industry. In response, the council for the realization of work style reform has informally decided to begin discussing revisions.

    Still, there remain many points at issue, such as how to sort out the differences between these workers and immigrants, and consideration of any negative impact the move might have on domestic employment. Officials therefore need to obtain the public's consensus. One ruling coalition official commented, "Looking ahead to the future, there is probably significance in the government starting to consider this now." As such, a clear course of action may not emerge in the action plan in March next year.

    In achieving equal pay for equal work, the government has confirmed that it will formulate guidelines this year on standards covering unjustified wage disparity, as well as those on reform of part-time labor laws and other related legislation.

    With regard to overtime, the government is considering revising the "saburoku kyotei" (36 agreement) between labor and management mentioned in Article 36 of the Labor Standards Act to set an upper limit on working hours. The issue of 24-hour businesses will also be addressed.

    Additionally, the government will consider revising the Home Work Act, which covers rules on side jobs, to promote telework, allowing a flexible approach for people who are raising children or caring for others. At the same time, the council for the realization of work style reform is also likely to take on the role of the Government-Labor-Management Meeting on realizing a positive economic cycle.

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