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Editorial: Gov't should scrap plan to accept more foreign workers based on trainee programs

The government has announced its estimate of the number of foreign workers to be granted new residency statuses it wants to introduce next spring in a bid to alleviate acute labor shortages.

Up to 340,000 people will be accepted over five years in 14 industries, with around 30,000 to 40,000 people accepted in fiscal 2019 starting April next year. Industries expected to hire larger numbers of foreigners include nursing care, food service and construction.

For the first year, the government envisions accepting workers meeting qualifications for the "category 1" residency status, who are required to have a command of at least everyday-level Japanese language, and know-how in the industries where they are working. But how will the industries acquire these people?

Technical intern trainees, who were originally accepted into Japan to gain expertise and experience that can be utilized in their home countries, can obtain the category 1 status without tests if they have completed a three-year training course. These trainees are already factored in in the government's plan to beef up the foreign workforce in Japan.

Of the 14 industries being opened up to additional foreign workers, 12 already have technical trainees among their employees. The government estimates that more than half of the foreign workers obtaining the new residency statuses would be existing technical trainees. There is no way denying that the new program is based on the trainee program. And there are clear problems with the new residency status system that relies heavily on such trainees.

Many trainees have gone missing from their workplaces. When questioned about the reasons for their disappearance during Diet deliberations, Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita replied that it is because they are seeking higher pay. Once they obtain the category 1 status, "they will be able to change jobs and their salary levels will be maintained, making their stay in Japan smoother," he said. This remark effectively confirms the instability technical intern trainees are subjected to. The technical trainee program has forced participants to work for long hours with low pay under the name of training. The program has been preserved amid the government's plan to accept more foreign workers, and therefore should be scrapped -- it is not right to maintain a facade while the reality is completely different.

Moreover, the government presented the estimates of new foreign workers only after Diet deliberations started, despite repeated demands for the figures from lawmakers. The data is vital in determining what preparations are necessary and how much of the budget should be allocated. The delay is a sign of the government's failure to make necessary preparations in time.

In addition, the legal package needed to pass the Diet for accepting more foreign workers should include support programs for such people. But important issues such as pay levels, working conditions or support mechanisms that are only explained to be equivalent to those for Japanese workers, will only be set by Justice Ministry ordinance. These things should be clearly defined in laws that require Diet approval. The failure to do so seems to have resulted in the administration handling of the matter in a sloppy manner.

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