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Wholesaler farms out training of 21 Vietnamese trainees, fires all of them

TOKYO -- A fresh produce wholesaler in Aichi Prefecture in central Japan contracted out its entire training program for Vietnamese technical intern trainees it had hired to farmers, a board member of the wholesaler has told the Mainichi Shimbun.

The employer and its affiliated agricultural corporation dismissed all 21 of the Vietnamese trainees on Jan. 25, having earlier notified the foreigners of the move. An expert on such issues says that this case potentially constitutes disguised contracting in violation of the Employment Security Act.

Seven of the trainees belong to labor unions and are demanding their employers pay wages and compensation.

According to the board member, although the company grew pumpkins and "daikon" Japanese radish on its farms before, it never harvested them itself. "We had no staff members who were capable of instructing trainees," the board member said, adding that his company depended on farmers in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido for issuing agricultural instructions. "Our employees only shuttled the trainees to and from the farms, as they would teach the trainees."

A farmer who accepted some of those interns testified on the company's mismanagement. "A (Japanese) woman working at our farm taught the trainees and gave them work instructions," the farmer said.

Companies accepting technical trainees are not prohibited from making contracts with and sending trainees to farmers. However, under Article 44 of the Employment Security Act, which prohibits labor supply businesses, such farmers are not allowed to give directions or orders to the trainees, as such actions would obscure the employer's responsibility.

Furthermore, leaving all the training to the actual workplaces may run counter to the technical intern training plans that host companies are required to draw up when accepting trainees.

The board member, however, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We were not aware (that it constituted disguised contracting or a violation of training plans)."

Lawyer Shoichi Ibusuki, who is versed in issues surrounding technical intern trainees, said, "If that was the case, it constitutes disguised contracting and runs counter to technical intern training plans. Companies that lack an understanding of the technical intern training program or labor laws are not qualified to accept trainees." He added, "The organization supervising the companies should also be held liable, and the responsibility of the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau, which approved the firms' acceptance of trainees, is grave."

(Japanese original by Tomohiro Katahira, City News Department)

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