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Vietnamese trainee speaks out on broken rib, injuries from assaults by Japanese colleagues

OKAYAMA -- A 41-year-old Vietnamese technical intern trainee who worked at a west Japan construction firm in the city of Okayama was repeatedly assaulted by several Japanese coworkers and suffered severe injuries, including a broken rib, it was revealed at a Jan. 17 press conference.

    A Vietnamese technical intern, center, speaks about the assaults he experienced working for a construction firm at a press conference at the Okayama Municipal Government building in the city's Kita Ward on Jan. 17, 2022. (Mainichi/Hanami Matsumuro)

    The man held the news conference at Okayama's city hall, and demanded the firm and other parties offer financial reparation and an apology. "I endured this because I didn't want to inconvenience my family or other interns. I wanted them to be more compassionate to foreigners," he said.

    According to Fukuyama Union Tampopo, a labor union in Hiroshima Prefecture which has taken the Vietnamese man under its protection, he left his wife and 5-year-old daughter in Vietnam to come to Japan in October 2019. Through mediation by a supervising organization in the city of Okayama, he got a job at the construction firm in November 2019 as a technical intern specializing in scaffolding.

    Around December that year, he began enduring assaults by multiple Japanese employees, such as being beaten and kicked. In May 2020, he sustained a chipped tooth and needed lip surgery requiring four stitches after a colleague threw a pipe-shaped component of about 90 centimeters down at his face while he was dismantling a scaffold. In November 2020, he suffered a bone fracture when a colleague serving as a guidance counsellor kicked him in the chest and elsewhere.

    Although the man reported the injuries in June 2021 by emailing photographic evidence to the supervising organization heading his intern program, he reportedly received a reply stating, "We will issue a warning regarding the violent behavior, but transferring you is difficult." The man said he was told something along the lines of "it can't be helped if you are the target of assault because your Japanese is poor." The violence then subsided for about a month.

    But in August 2021, a colleague, who was angered at dust falling from the scaffold above where the Vietnamese man was working, pricked his shoe sole with a needle-like component. The technical intern said the assaults frequently happened on occasions when he could not speak Japanese well or when there were disruptions at work.

    In October last year, he contacted Fukuyama Union Tampopo through a Vietnamese person he met on Facebook, and was taken into their protection. He currently lives in a union-provided shelter. According to the union, in the first collective talks, the company said, "Although we largely recognize the injuries happened, we are not aware of specifics as to whether there were assaults." The union said the supervising organization also claimed they were unaware of the events.

    The man has insisted the company told him to tell a doctor examining his injuries at a hospital that he fell off a bicycle. Since around May 2020, he has suffered stress-related insomnia, and he reportedly visited the hospital with a supervising organization staff member.

    Three other Vietnamese technical interns work at the construction firm, and Japanese employees reportedly hit them and subjected them to other violence. The man said tearfully, "Before coming to Japan, I thought Japanese people were kind and that it was a safe country with a good working environment, but I had a very hard time because of the violence I received."

    He also expressed a desire to continue working in Japan for his family's sake, saying, "I want to move to a different, good company."

    The lawyer representing the construction firm said, "We cannot provide any comments or factual information as we are still negotiating a settlement. To reach an amicable solution, we want to swiftly respond to the matter." The supervising organization's lawyer also refrained from comment on the grounds that negotiations are ongoing.

    Mitsugu Muto, 71, the executive chairman of Fukuyama Union Tampopo, said, "This is an awful assault case at an unparalleled level in Japan, and is clearly an act of bullying." He said that if collective talks do not reach a solution, the union is considering filing a report with police and the labor standards inspection office, and launching a lawsuit.

    (Japanese original by Hanami Matsumuro, Okayama Bureau)

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