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Editorial: Foreign trainee program needs total revamp

The government cancelled its approval of the training program at Mitsubishi Motors Corp. for Philippine technical intern trainees after the major auto maker was found to have made the trainees work along car assembly lines for years although they were accepted to carry out welding training. As punishment, the company has been prohibited from accepting foreign trainees for five years.

Such misconduct is heinous, and many trainees had to go home or transfer to other companies. The automaker deserves the tough punishment.

This case has yet again revealed the structural problem of the technical intern trainee program. Under the current arrangement, a management organization is supposed to accept trainees, place them in companies and guide and monitor such firms.

But many management bodies are run with money from those companies or their industries. This relationship makes it difficult for those management bodies to play their designed roles.

Under the new immigration law to be implemented in April, a body called a "registration support organization" will play a similar role as management organizations, for foreign workers to be accepted under new residency statuses.

The government must learn lessons from the Mitsubishi Motors case by investigating if the management organization properly played its intended role.

The violation of the training program emerged because the Organization for Technical Intern Training inspected the company. The organization was established based on the 2017 Technical Intern Training Act. But the organization has limited human resources, and cannot inspect every suspected violation. Japan now has more than 300,000 technical trainees, and the latest case is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.

The government intends to maintain the training program as a source of candidates for new residency statuses for foreign workers to be introduced in April. The current training program faced tough criticism during the last extraordinary session of the Diet for its low pay and long working hours. In the latest punishment, the government apparently wanted to emphasize its tough posture against violators by exposing a case involving a major corporation.

However, the original purpose of the trainee program to transfer Japan's technical expertise to developing companies remains in name only, and the whole system is used to make up for labor shortages. This is the undeniable reality. We renew our demand that the government abolish the trainee program and consolidate residency statuses for menial workers.

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