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Language support, safety training sought under gov't move to boost foreign workforce

Reia Zafra, from the Philippines, serves a spoonful of sweet jelly to a woman with dementia at a care home in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, on July 3, 2018. (Mainichi).

TOKYO -- Japanese language support and safety training for non-Japanese workers were among requests that business representatives made in recent discussions on a government proposal to accept more foreigners into the nation's workforce.

Representatives of various industries made the requests at a meeting of the Judicial Affairs Division of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Oct. 23.

The government is considering opening up 14 sectors to foreign workers by revising the immigration control law and creating new statuses of residence. Representatives from 11 organizations in seven of these sectors -- construction, shipbuilding and marine equipment, farming, nursing care, the accommodation industry, the restaurant industry, and machine equipment -- participated in the meeting.

Tokuji Yamamoto a top executive at the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors, commented, "We want (the government) to make sure that the influx of foreigners doesn't put a damper on improvements in conditions for Japanese." He added, "Construction sites are extremely dangerous. We want to call for Japanese language proficiency to be boosted to ensure that the necessary safety education and technical instruction can be provided." Yamamoto further demanded that the government "explain how to deal with workers who lose their jobs and become illegal residents."

Meanwhile, Shigeo Yunoki of the National Chamber of Agriculture stated, "There are great expectations in the field (regarding the new statuses of residence), but there are quite a few concerns about trouble with local residents and security problems." The chamber has asked the government for measures to dispel such concerns, and Yunoki stated, "In providing an environment to accept workers, we want a watertight response."

Japan has already been accepting prospective nursing care workers from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam based on economic partnership agreements. Hiroyuki Hirakawa, deputy chairman of the Japan Association of Geriatric Health Services Facilities, pointed out, "For those from Vietnam, the pass rate for the state exam (for nursing care workers) this year is 93.7 percent, higher than for Japanese. It's a question of how steadily Japanese language education is implemented." He added, "In providing a high level of service to elderly Japanese people, first and foremost we'd like to request support for Japanese language education following the entry (of prospective foreign workers) into Japan.

Ministries and agencies overseeing the sectors the government is considering opening up outlined specific staff shortages during meetings with LDP headquarters and the party's ruling coalition partner Komeito.

In nursing, there were 3.97 times more active job openings than applicants for the month of August, representing an increase of job openings of more than 2 percent compared to five years earlier. In the manufacturing industry, meanwhile, a survey conducted in December last year found a marked shortage of workers at over 94 percent of firms. Similarly in the accommodation industry, it was reported that over 30 percent of workers are in their 60s, and a major staff shortage is expected in the future as they retire.

(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada, City News Department)

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