Headlines

INT’L LABOUR DAY: Old, Grey Japanese Make Way for Unskilled Foreign Workers

Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Apr 29 2005 (IPS) - It can be seen as an International Labour Day bonus for those trying to seek their fortunes in Japan. Beginning May 1, Tokyo will be less fussy with unskilled foreign workers and start opening its labour market doors to them to ward off a looming demographic crisis.

It can be seen as an International Labour Day bonus for those trying to seek their fortunes in Japan. Beginning May 1, Tokyo will be less fussy with unskilled foreign workers and start opening its labour market doors to them to ward off a looming demographic crisis.

The harsh reality confronting Japan’s planners is a rapidly aging population and fast dwindling local workforce. According to the U.N., Japan’s population will decline from 127 million in 2004 to 109 million in 2050. In effect, a smaller working population will have to support a larger group of pensioners.

”With Japan’s labour force expected to decrease by 10 percent in the next 25 years, the economic outlook is far from bright,” said Julian Chapple, a lecturer with Kyoto Sangyo University.

”In all likelihood the domestic market will shrink, production will fall, the government’s revenue base will contract inexorably and it will struggle to meet welfare and medical payments for an increasing number of elderly as the dependency ratio (the number of workers supporting the elderly) will shift dramatically,” Chapple wrote in a recent report for the ‘Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies’.

Studies indicate that in 1950 one elderly person was supported by 12 members of the working population, by 1990 it was 5.5 workers, and by 2020 it is estimated to be 2.3 workers.


”Naturally the government is concerned about such a scenario,” wrote the lecturer. ”The question now is how can Japan ease this predicted slide, maintain its population and therefore ensure economic security and continued prosperity?

In early April, the Japanese government unveiled a new immigration plan, following a report prepared by Japan’s Justice Ministry asking the cabinet to ”firmly consider” bringing in unskilled foreign workers.

”After years of trying to ignore the problem, Japan realises the important role of migrants to provide cheap labour and stimulate the local economy,” said Katsunori Yoshinari, head of the Asia Peoples Friendship Association, a non-governmental organisation.

The new policy represents a shift for Japan, which has, till now, refused to allow unskilled foreign labour into the country. It has also been lukewarm about letting in more skilled workers.

”The program is in response to Japanese companies that want the government to consider accepting migrant workers,” said Shoichiro Okabe, an official at the Justice Ministry.

He explained the new policy will focus on relaxed immigration controls accompanied by new conditions when accepting unskilled labour such as placing priority on Japanese language skills.

Farm, fisheries and forestry sectors are expected to be the main beneficiaries of the new policy, which will be effective for five years starting May. A decision on which other sectors would be allowed to invite foreign unskilled workers is expected soon.

Experts point out Japan’s tightly controlled immigration policy has long ensured the homogeneity of Japanese society. But such a stance has taken a severe beating recently given domestic labour problems.

”Prying open Japan to foreigners is not an easy task given deep-rooted suspicion of outside influences. Against such a background, indications from the government itself to open up its doors shows important changes,” explained Asia Peoples Friendship Association’s Yoshinari.

Indeed, several small towns and cities in Japan, faced with labour crunches, have already started studying programmes to accept foreign workers.

Kimio Matsudaira, an official at Hello Work, a public labour office in Ota city, Gumma prefecture, 60 kilometers north of Tokyo, said there is now a special programme to help and support foreigners working in the area.

Ota has a population of about 200,000 people. The irony is that more than sixty percent of its people are over 60 years of age, in a city where the economy is dependent on manufacturing. Without doubt, Ota really needs foreign workers badly.

To support the city’s automobile and electronic industries, Ota is now host to more than 30,000 Japanese Latin Americans, descendants of Japanese who emigrated to South America in the early 20th century seeking a better future.

In the late eighties Japan launched a policy of accepting third and fourth generation Japanese Latin Americans to support a labour shortage in its factories stemming from the bubble economy at that time.

More recently, Asians, mostly from South-east Asia, have also arrived to work in factories, comprising a total of 45,000 registered workers in Ota city.

Matsudaira said foreign workers are vital to the survival of Ota’s economy.

”In order to have a smooth process of accepting foreigners we provide support services such as language classes, driving lessons, private housing and counseling. The system works very well, he told IPS.

Hiroaki Watanabe, an expert at the Japan Labour Research Institute, a private think tank, said the latest move to accept unskilled migrant labour, in contrast to skilled foreigners, must be accompanied by such support services.

”Moreover it is important to start with accepting small numbers of unskilled workers to minimise social problems in a closed domestic society that is not ready for foreigners,” he said.

But public opinion is sharply divided on foreign workers. A survey last year asked people how they would feel about a foreigner taking a job which no Japanese wanted.

Thirty-three percent rejected the idea, 31 percent had no objections and 29 percent would support it if there were no other option, with the rest having no opinion or undecided.

Polls also show more Japanese fear foreigners as a source of crime. Figures for 2004 show serious crimes fell by 4.4 percent year-on-year, but crimes by foreigners – while accounting for a minority of incidents – shot up by 16 percent.

 
Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Labour, Population

INT’L LABOUR DAY: Old, Grey Japanese Make Way for Unskilled Foreign Workers

Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Apr 29 2005 (IPS) - It can be seen as an International Labour Day bonus for those trying to seek their fortunes in Japan. Beginning May 1, Tokyo will be less fussy with unskilled foreign workers and start opening its labour market doors to them to ward off a looming demographic crisis.
(more…)

 
Republish | | Print |

Related Tags