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Laid off Indonesian woman in central Japan among many foreigners losing jobs amid pandemic

An Indonesian woman who was recently dismissed from her workplace amid the novel coronavirus pandemic is seen in Ueda, Nagano Prefecture, on July 22, 2020. (Mainichi/Mari Sakane)

NAGANO -- An Indonesian woman living in central Japan is among many foreigners who work in nonpermanent employment and are stuck in limbo after suddenly losing their jobs amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

    An increasing number of nonpermanent workers have been dismissed from workplaces whose business performance was on the decline amid the coronavirus outbreak. Nonpermanent employees make up a high proportion of foreign workers in Japan, and among them is a 44-year-old Indonesian woman who lives in the city of Ueda, Nagano Prefecture, with her husband and daughter, a first-year student in high school.

    The number of individuals in the central Japan prefecture who had been laid off due to terminations of their employment contracts amid the pandemic, including estimated figures, reached 961 at 76 businesses as of July 29, and is continuing to rise, according to the Nagano Labor Bureau.

    The woman, who had been working as a dispatch worker in the manufacturing industry, was suddenly notified of her contract termination this spring. She was told, "We will end your contract in May, since work has been limited. We're sorry." She looked back and commented, "I actually wanted to work there for a long time, but I guess it can't be helped since the company also doesn't have much incoming work. I was very upset."

    She added, "I think that foreigners are more likely (than Japanese nationals) to get fired. Many foreign colleagues of mine have been sacked, even though we've been working very hard."

    The woman met her Japanese husband in Indonesia, and in 2002 moved to the city of Ueda where he works. In an unfamiliar land, she learned Japanese on her own by watching television. To support their household income, she worked diligently at the company she was dispatched to. However, after she was suddenly laid off, she has been feeling extreme anxiety about losing her monthly salary of about 150,000 yen (about $1,419).

    She commented, "These days, my daughter has started extracurricular activities, and there are necessary expenses here and there. I'm worried about what's going to happen going forward. I feel that prices are expensive at supermarkets. I can only eat beef or chicken as I'm a Muslim, but I can only afford chicken. I make lunch, but my daughter tells me, 'Mom, I'm tired of eating just chicken.'"

    She visited the local government-run "Hello Work" public employment security bureau, but was told by an employee that the situation was difficult as there were few job offers. Although her anxiety has worsened, she stays positive and tells herself, "There are people who are having a tougher time than I am. I have to go forward positively. I might get sick if I only have negative thoughts all the time."

    As of the end of September 2019, there were 4,108 foreign residents in the city of Ueda, Nagano Prefecture, accounting for 2.6% of the city's population, according to the Association for Multicultural community building of Ueda. Chinese and Brazilian nationals make up about half this number.

    The association commented, "The coronavirus scored a direct hit on foreign residents. It's a very severe situation in which there are also people who are now on welfare to cover basic living expenses. Companies lost their extra capacity from around June, and job dismissals have been ongoing. Those who have put in so much more effort than normal to live in Japan are being laid off regardless of their ability."

    The municipal government of Ueda, which received many inquiries from foreign residents saying they had been dismissed or had no job, has decided for the first time to hold free Japanese language classes for foreign residents seeking work. Speaking Japanese will widen the scope of job options for such residents. A municipal government official said, "There are people who were busy and didn't have the spare time to learn Japanese, or those who couldn't learn the language as their workplace had an interpreter. It's easier to get a new job if you speak Japanese."

    Upcoming language sessions will be held at a municipal welfare center for workers on Aug. 11, Aug. 25, and Sept. 1, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Participants are limited to 20 people per class. To apply, call the Ueda Municipal Government at 0268-26-6023.

    (Japanese original by Mari Sakane, Nagano Bureau)

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