In-depth discussions needed over hiring of more foreign workers
With the shrinking of this country’s workforce as a result of the rapid graying of society and the chronically low birthrate, Japan now faces the major challenge of meeting the nation’s manpower needs to ensure its society remains vigorous.
Under the circumstances, the government has begun studying the effective use of foreign workers in such sectors as construction and nursing care services. The first issue to be taken up is significantly increasing the number of foreign workers in the construction industry.
With the sharp rise in demand for construction related to facilities for the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, the industry is expected to face acute manpower shortages.
Regarding the plan for accepting technical trainees from developing countries—the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program—the government plans to extend the period of stay for trainees in this country to up to six years, from the current three years, if they work in the construction industry. The planned extension will be temporary, effective from fiscal 2015 until the opening of the Tokyo Olympics. The step appears to be a last-ditch, stopgap measure to cope with the extreme shortage of construction workers.
In regard to the government-backed foreign trainee program, a slew of instances involving violations of the Labor Standards Law have been reported, including nonpayment of wages. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry must bolster surveillance procedures to crack down on wrongful labor practices.
Labor shortages are also serious in the nursing care service sector. Due to the graying of society, the number of nursing care workers across the country should be increased by 1 million by 2025, according to a government estimate.
However, the foreign nursing care workers accepted by this country have been strictly limited to people from such countries as Indonesia who come to Japan with the aim of acquiring qualifications as certified welfare workers under economic partnership agreements between Japan and these countries. The number of people who passed certification examinations totaled about 240 since the start of the program in fiscal 2008, far short of making up for the labor shortage.
Boost working conditions
Without opening the door wider for foreigners with vocational skills, the future rise in demand for labor can never be met. The government should study the feasibility of adopting a new vocational certification examination system.
It is also essential for the government to help foreigners who wish to work here as nursing care workers to improve their Japanese-language capabilities, as communication in Japanese is indispensable in the field.
One major factor behind the labor shortages in the construction and nursing care sectors may be because young Japanese who find employment in these businesses tend to quit their jobs very soon. This is mainly because wages in these sectors are lower than in other industries, making young workers worried about making long-term plans for the future.
As long as companies remain dependent on cheap labor from overseas, wage levels of these firms are bound to remain static, and as a result they will continue to be unable to secure sufficient workers. It is vitally important for them to improve working conditions for Japanese workers, such as by introducing a regular wage raise system and a framework conducive to enhancing their vocational careers.
The government has hammered out a policy of encouraging women and the elderly to find employment. In sectors where there is still a labor shortage despite this policy, the government must come up with steps to make better use of labor from abroad.
If foreign workers can be employed to do housework, the ratio of women joining the nation’s workforce will increase.
There are now about 700,000 foreign workers in the country. Considering the possibility of cultural friction between foreign workers and Japanese and the impact on the nation’s public security, foreign workers should not be brought into the country in a haphazard manner.
How should foreign workers be brought into this country and how should they be utilized? The time is ripe for the government and private sector to discuss these matters extensively.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 21, 2014)