FOREIGN MIGRANT WORKERS AND PROTECTION OF THEIR HUMAN RIGHTS
For the past 5 years, the number of migrant workers coming to Japan for jobs from the Third World has kept increasing. According to the statistics of the Justice Ministry as of June, 1990, there are over 100,000 foreigners who stay in Japan with their visa expired. However, considering that this figure was published in 1990 and that the number has doubled every year, it is presumed that the actual number of foreigners with expired visa as of 1992 far exceeds that of 1990.
In the beginning when the foreigners started to come to Japan for work, most of them were women working at the night clubs or inns as so-called "Japayuki-san." They were often put in custody and forced into prostitution. Their situation remained almost the same for several years. Then, some years later men workers followed the women. In general, it is said that settlement by foreign workers in any country is preceded by women, and men follow then in an increasing number, and finally their family members are invited when their lives become stable to some extent. In the case of foreign workers in Japan, they seem to be following this general phenomena. They are now entering the second stage, i.e., settlement of the men workers.
The Japanese government has substantially kept an exclusive policy toward Asian people coming to Japan. The June 1990's amendment of the "Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act" reinforces the government's stand to reject and shut out the "unskilled workers" while opening the door wider to foreigners with technological skills and knowledge. The term "unskilled workers" refers to those from Asian countries. The government has tried to keep a "pure blood" Japanese society with its eyes closed to the problems of the migrant workers in Europe, and the serious problem of labor shortage suffered by the small companies has never been solved. After all, the "Foreign Trainee System" established by the government is just a tentative measure to fill a gap between policy and reality. And it is the foreigners who suffer from contradictions caused by this system. The first case we worked in was related to the woman "trainees" from the Philippines.
1. Low Wage Labor Disguised under the Name of "Training" - the case of Filipino Trainees
They were sent to Japan in February, 1990 by a Filipino company under the name of "training program." However, it was a mere paper company set up for the purpose of dispatching them legally. Upon arrival, they were brought to the office of a Japanese company, a counter-partner in Japan, and made to work on computer processing immediately. Since then, they were not allowed a single day-off. After a while, they started to complain of shoulder aches due to excessive work.
Although they were virtually workers, their status as "trainees" hindered them from claiming their rights as "workers" and made them put up with work conditions that were below the standards. They were mostly afraid of the company's reluctance to renew their visas if they stood up and claimed their rights as workers. Not only their work conditions but also their visa status was in the hands of the employer. However, they bravely joined a local labor union called "union Higoro" and sat down at the negotiation table with the company. Although they did not have enough time to completely pursue the company, they ended up winning some demands and left Japan in February, 1991.
As seen in the case of the Filipino trainees, foreign workers are more likely to be subject to labor accidents and labor illnesses than their fellow Japanese workers, as they are put under very unstable conditions. Furthermore, when they meet with a labor accident, they have to face financial problems with medical expenses and loss of income. As foreign workers are usually not covered by insurance, it is almost impossible to get the necessary medical treatment. To apply for the labor accident insurance from the government, a payment record for the medical treatment is required, but, in reality they cannot afford to receive treatment, and thus are unable to be compensated for labor accidents.
2. Our Work in Osaka Covering the Increasing Number of Labor Accidents among Foreign Workers:
In the metropolitan district including Kanagawa Prefecture, the number of labor accidents involving foreign workers has increased for the past two years. In March 1992, the National Council of Labor Safety Centers published a 'White Paper on Labor Accidents Involving Foreign Workers' in collaboration with 'Call Network', 'Karabao-no-kai ', and other support groups based in the Kanto area (metropolitan district.) According to the white paper, only 19 cases among 42 cases of work related accidents surveyed were able to get compensation, and only 2 cases among these 19 cases were able to proceed through, the application steps without assistance of support groups. The survey clearly indicates the seriousness of the violation of human rights concerning foreign workers.
The Kansai Labor Safety Center was stimulated by the active and progressive support work in the Kanto Area, and is determined to tackle the problems in the Kansai area. The telephone consultation program conducted by our office and 'Asian Friends' for the period from September 2 to 4, 1991, was for the purpose of surveying labor accidents involving foreign workers.
With a public announcement by the mass-media, we received more than 60 calls, and among them were 10 calls from foreign workers in trouble because of labor accidents. Most of them were Korean. Except for the case of a Chinese-Korean who got his finger amputated while working at a press factory, all the other accidents happened at construction sites. They included such accidents as; the case of an amputation of a forefinger that was caught in a truck door at a road construction site; the case of a compound fracture of legs pinned under a caterpillar at a construction site; the case of peritonitis caused by a thrust in the abdomen with an iron frame when a worker fell down from a second story while welding iron frames at a construction site; and the case of a separation of muscle when the thumb finger was caught by a crane due to the driver's mistake.
These accidents are not unusual at a construction site, however, their position as a foreign worker makes the case worse. The companies did not apply for the labor insurance for fear that they might be punished for employing undocumented foreign workers, or thought that insurance would not be provided in cases of illegal employment, and that the medical expenses were shouldered by most of the companies. The workers, on the other hand, stayed in the hospital with anxiety over such things as the company might report them to the Immigration, or that they could not fully recover, or who would compensate them for lost wages or possible after-effects.
The advice we gave them was only one, that is, every worker should be protected by the Labor Standard Law regardless of his visa status stipulated by the Immigration Law. Through the mass-media, foreign workers in Japan are labelled as "illegal workers" and given a distorted image. Although they are not different from their fellow Japanese workers, they are considered ineligible to be protected by the labor laws of Japan. We tried to wipe out the false image given to them and to disseminate precise information among them that all workers are protected by the labor laws.
However, things were not going as easily as we expected. In most cases, the direct employers of the foreign workers were the subcontractors. The subordinate and vertical relationship between the contractors and subcontractors usually makes the latter reluctant to ask the former to proceed application for the labor accident insurance. Contractors remind the subcontractors to manage and solve labor accidents by themselves. Also the subcontractors are afraid to be pointed out for their negligence of the Labor Safety and Hygiene Law when they report an accident to the Labor Standard Inspection Office. These lead them to dress up the real story of accident and dispose of it as a personal disease or injury.
Foreign workers are put in the middle of such a peculiar industrial climate in Japan. In the cases with which we dealt, they were denied the labor accident insurance by their employers who excused it by saying "We were instructed not to employ foreign workers by our contractors" or "We got jobs from our contractor with the condition not to bring any cases of labor accidents to the administration office. " In addition, the foreign workers were at a disadvantage in that they engaged in activities beyond what they were allowed by the Immigration Law. In the cases we worked for, most of the injured workers were hospitalized without medical insurance, and the employers felt the heavy financial burden to pay for all the hospital expenses. That was the reason why they willingly applied for the labor accident insurance. Ironically, we approached the employers with a warning that if they applied for the labor accident insurance they would be released from the burden of paying the medical expenses. We spent our energy to convince the employers to report the cases to the Labor Standard Inspection Office while they implicitly threatened to report the illegal engagement of their foreign workers to the Immigration.
In our support work, we found that not only the workers but also the employers are not aware of the applicability of the labor insurance to foreign workers. At least a few of the cases we worked with could have been easily solved if both parties had known the information. One can wonder about the instructions the government gives.