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Ministry submits wrong data to Diet on missing foreign trainees; deliberation shelved

Chairman Yasuhiro Hanashi, right, of the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee consults with Shiori Yamao, a lawmaker of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, after the committee's meeting of directors was adjourned on Nov. 16, 2018, inside the National Diet building. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Diet deliberations on accepting more foreign workers have been stalled by the finding that the Ministry of Justice presented incorrect information from a survey on foreign technical intern trainees who fled from their workplaces.

Opposition parties mounted a fierce attack over the misstated information, which included an incorrectly stated ratio of trainees interviewed over why they fled, and differences between actual interview questions and those included in data shown to lawmakers. The ruling camp subsequently postponed the planned start of Diet deliberations on the issue.

The ministry revealed the errors at a meeting of directors of the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee on Nov. 16. In response, the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) filed a motion seeking the dismissal of the panel's chair Yasuhiro Hanashi, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Deliberations will now not start at least until Nov. 20. This has put a damper on the government's plan of passing revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to accept more foreign workers during the current extraordinary session of the Diet, which ends on Dec. 10.

The Justice Ministry explained earlier that its officials interviewed 2,892 foreign trainees who fled their workplaces. The ministry said about 87 percent of them responded that their motivation was higher pay. A detailed examination of the results, however, shows that the actual number of interviewees was 2,870, and that the percentage of respondents who cited pay as their reason stood at 67 percent, the ministry said.

As for the trainees' motivation for fleeing, the ministry also corrected the ratio of those who said they escaped from their training locations because they didn't want to go home as required upon completion of their training -- from about 14 percent to 18 percent. The ratio of those citing harsh training methods was also amended, from some 5 percent to around 13 percent. Those who cited violence was corrected from some 3 percent to 5 percent.

The ministry explained that those mistakes were a result of incorrect data processing on computers and the erroneous counting of one trainee choosing multiple answers as two respondents. The opposition saw the corrections as a "critical flaw related to the foundation of the system," as CDP lawmaker Shiori Yamao put it.

In addition, it was also revealed that responses to three of the options listed as the motivation for trainees' escape -- "low wages," "wages lower than those set in the contract," and "wages lower than the minimum wage" -- were lumped together by the ministry into a single category of "seeking higher wages." A number of opposition legislators criticized this practice, saying that the ministry did so "because it apparently intended to point the finger at the trainees as workers only interested in higher salaries."

CDP Diet affairs committee chief Kiyomi Tsujimoto explained that her party submitted a motion seeking the dismissal of the lower house judicial affairs committee chair because "he tried to forcibly move the deliberations ahead when the Justice Ministry had the possibility of distorting reality."

According to the corrected ministry data, the 2,870 interviewees included 1,537 Chinese trainees as the largest group by nationality, followed by 1,085 Vietnamese nationals. Approximately 57 percent of those questioned said their monthly pay as trainees was 100,000 yen or less.

The survey was conducted in 2017 through local immigration bureaus across the nation. As of the end of 2017, 274,233 foreign technical intern trainees were in Japan, and a total of 7,089 trainees went missing in the same year.

(Japanese original by Jun Aoki, Political News Department, and Takeshi Wada, City News Department)

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