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Bill to accept more foreign workers in Japan 'half-baked': opposition parties

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, answers questions from Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi during a plenary session of the House of Councillors on Oct. 31, 2018. (Mainichi/ Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Opposition parties stepped up their offensive against a government-sponsored bill to revise the immigration control law to accept more foreign workers to Japan during recent Diet deliberations.

"It is a half-cooked, insufficient bill," said Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, about the bill. The package, which has been pushed by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, came under fire during the three-day question-and-answer sessions involving party representatives that wrapped up on Oct. 31.

The opposition attacked the bill, which is aimed at addressing acute domestic labor shortages, as lacking meticulous design and called for further question-and-answer sessions with Abe in attendance.

Specifically, opposition forces called into question possible impacts that revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act would have on Japanese society. They pointed out possibilities such as declining wages for Japanese workers and adverse effects on the social security system.

Kohei Otsuka, acting leader of the Democratic Party for the People, expressed concern that accepting more foreign workers in Japan could lead to a drop in the wages of their Japanese competitors.

"Studies in the United States and Britain, which are advanced countries in terms of acceptance of immigrants, have found that the wages of domestic workers tend to decline with the increase of foreign laborers," he said during a House of Councillors session on Oct. 31.

In response, Prime Minister Abe said, "We have taken measures to raise wages (for Japanese workers) and improved their income environment." However, his explanation was not enough to dispel concerns over potential repercussions of the revision on domestic employment and wages.

Even Toranosuke Katayama, co-leader of conservative opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), sounded alarmed. "I heard the measure (of receiving more foreign workers) will be suspended once labor shortages are resolved. But I wonder if things would just go in a way that is convenient."

Another focus of concern is the amendment's effects on the social security system. Critics voiced worries over cases where the medical bills of families overseas of foreign workers in Japan will have to be covered by national health insurance. Foreign workers entering Japan on work visas to utilize the public health insurance policy is also causing jitters.

Yet Abe said he was not thinking about reviewing the social welfare system along with accepting more foreign workers.

A legislator demanded that the bill be finalized only after a survey on the use of public health insurance by foreign workers in Japan has been conducted. The prime minister responded, "I would like to release the survey results by the end of the year." This answer elicited jeers from some lawmakers, who shouted the timing would be "too late."

The administration and ruling coalition in the Diet are seeking to obtain Cabinet approval of the revision bill on Nov. 2 before putting it to debate in the Diet on Nov. 8. However, even some members within the ruling camp have complained about the government's lack of preparations.

"There are some points where the details still remain unclear," said Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party headed by Abe.

Yukio Edano, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, pointed out that the ruling bloc had approved the bill on condition that a provision for reviewing the legislation after its enforcement would be included. "It symbolizes the ruling bloc's premature action," he said.

(Japanese original by Jun Aoki and Yusuke Tanabe, Political News Department)

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