FOREIGN WORKERS AND LABOR ACCIDENTS

This article is written by a Korean Jesuit seminarian sent to@Japan for regency studies. He spent several months at the Jesuit social center "Taibiji no Sato" in Kamagasaki, Osaka, helping foreign workers in trouble. This is an account of his experience there.

1. Encounters with Foreign Workers:

On July 1, 1991 when I first came to Osaka in my interim stage, I met one Korean youth, age around 25, with an injury to his right arm at Ikuno Church. He had arrived in Japan 4 months before then. Two months after his arrival, he met with a labor accident and went to a hospital. Although the employer was responsible for the accident, his medical treatment was not paid nor was he given compensation. He relied on his family back home for the hospital expenses. Three days after I met him, he went back home with an unhealed injury as he could not afford to pay to the hospital any more.

Another 27 year-old youth I met had come to Japan with a tourist visa two years previously. Being an orphan since childhood he grew up by himself. Without school education, he could neither read nor write Korean or Japanese. Three years before he had started a small business with the money he saved from working on a fishing boat for one year. However he failed in his business with a debt of 30 million won. To pay back the debt, he came to Japan to work. Having worked hard for 2 years, he finally paid back most of the debt. However, due to hard work, he damaged his back and became unable to walk. Despite the doctor's advice to have an operation, he returned home with the damaged back as he had no money for the operation. Unfortunately, he did not remember the names of his employer nor the company because of his illiteracy. It was a sad story caused by indifference on the part of the employer and his own ignorance.

Foreigners are driven to work in Japan for some reasons. The Korean workers I met in Japan have failed several times in their business or work back in Korea, and have come to Japan for their last chance. It is beyond our imagination to conceive how desperate they are when they have lost their last chance. During my 6 month-stay in Kamagasaki, the problems I encountered were all related to compensation for labor accidents involving foreign workers. When my work did not end up successfully like in the cases mentioned above, I shared a feeling of helplessness with them. Through such experiences, I have learned many things that I am mentioning below:

2. Japanese Economy and Foreign Workers

First of all, I would like to define the term of "foreign worker" in this article as the foreign worker without an adequate visa. The number of foreigners who work in Japan without an adequate visa exceeds 100,000 according to the statistics made by the Immigration Office of the Justice Ministry at the end of March, Foreign Workers in Japan and their Human Rights" by Masao Niwa, attorney at law. On the other hand, 70% of the companies in the construction industry, and 62% of the companies in the manufacturing industry are affected by a labor shortage, according to a "Factual Awareness Survey on Employment of Foreigners" conducted by the Labor Administration Office in Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo. The mass media has also reported that the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Osaka made an official request to the government to legally accept foreign workers into Japan. Actually many companies need workers from abroad, and in fact they are employing them now. Those workers are making important contributions to the Japanese economy, and it is quite clear that, without them, Japanese companies would really suffer from the labor shortage.

Companies make up for the labor shortage by using undocumented non-Japanese workers, and by keeping them in a status of illegality they are also building up excuses to fire them if a business becomes stagnant. In 1990, the Immigration Office unmasked about 30,000 illegal persons. Is it improper to say that the Immigration practice acts as a catalyst for controlling the numbers of non-Japanese workers? On one hand they are hired because they are needed by the companies, but on the other hand they are considered 'criminals. ' Such an ironical situation tends to blame non-Japanese workers for Japan's economic contradictions, and if it is true that the whole matter is the result of a political efficiency philosophy, which tries to always keep one's own hands clean, one cannot but criticize it.

Behind the screen and as a consequence of being illegal, low wages, unpaid salaries, prostitution practices, lack of qualifications for compensation for labor accidents and all kinds of human rights violations and discrimination occur. Why is it that, while most industrial countries accept foreign unskilled workers, only Japan refuses to accept them? Is it true that they are exerting such a bad influence on the Japanese society that they must be considered 'criminals'?

3. Insecurity of Temporary Workers

Due to the fact that more than half of the foreign workers are temporary laborers working on construction sites and in factories, I feel I should deal here with the issue of day laborers.

There are two types of temporary work, one is 'cash' and the other the 'contract' type. The 'cash' type means that a person performs a job under a one-day contract, and receives his pay at the end of work that day. A non-Japanese worker, who understands some Japanese, can usually find this type of job by himself and will receive the same amount of money given to Japanese colleagues. He can go to work when he likes, and he can take a holiday whenever he wants to.

The 'contract' type of work is to be done under contract within a period of time, from 10 to 15 days. Only after the period of colleagues. He can go to work when he likes, and he can take a holiday whenever he wants to.

The 'contract' type of work is to be done under contract within a period of time, from 10 to 15 days. Only after the period of the contract expires will wages be paid. During the working period workers stay at bunkhouses, called 'Hanba', and a 3,000Yen per diem is deducted from their wages. Wages are paid for working days only, and since daily expenses are always deducted from the wages, sometimes due to bad weather, etc, laborers do not work more than 3 days, and as a result nothing is left of their salaries. On top of that, foreign workers often suffer terrible exploitation and humiliations in those bunkhouses.

The average day-salary for temporary workers is 13,000 yen for 8 hours of work, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. People might think it is a good deal, but in reality it is not so. Workers have to go to the 'Yoseba' as early as 4 a.m. every morning to find a job, and when they come back home after work it is already 6 or 7 in the evening. In reality people spend 12 hours daily for work, and there is never assurance that they can find a day-job. Of course there are no jobs available on rainy days. When the rainy season comes or during a business recession, there are people who cannot find a job for more than a month.

* Editor's Note: Day-workers do not usually go through the regular channels to find jobs; recruiters (tehaishi) normally recruit the workers. Near the recruiting places (yoseba), there are towns with plenty of inns (doya) for workers with fixed prices a night, per person. Such regions are called 'doya towns.' In Japan, there are 3 big 'doya towns' : Kamagasaki in Osaka, Kotobukicho in Yokohama, and Sanya in Tokyo. There are 4 big 'yoseba', 3 in the 'doya towns' as mentioned above, plus Sasajima in Nagoya, which is a temporary workers' town without 'doya.'

Jobs engaged in by temporary workers are usually dangerous, hard and dirty. Many labor accidents occur, and when day-workers get injured they are always placed at a disadvantageous position when making an application for compensation to the labor insurance office. * Normal employees who might receive 13,000 yen a day, as the workers do, will be considered earners of an average day salary equal to that amount. As a result, when there is a business day-off they will be paid 10,400 yen, or 80% of their average day salary. It is different for temporary workers, whose average salary is only 9,490 yen or 73% of their day-salary, and consequently they will be given only 7,600 yen or an 80% compensation salary on business day-off.

Since the average day-salary is the basis to calculate how much compensation is to be given for accidents, there is also a gap here between normal employees and temporary workers. Salaries for foreigners are usually low, and the compensations come to about half of the average. One more basic problem is that when a labor accident occurs it is difficult to obtain good evidence about it, due to the fact that day-workers often change their work sites. Most of the employers hate to make use of labor insurance, and since it is difficult to obtain evidence of labor accidents it is very hard to get compensation from the insurance office.

Note: The labor insurance is a government insurance system which provides workers with compensation for medical care, injuries and rest periods, in case of labor accidents. Employers, not the individual workers, are obliged to join the labor insurance program. Even if employers do not join the labor insurance, victims of accidents are not excluded from receiving compensation. The victims themselves have the right to apply for compensation, even if the employer denies the existence of the accident, or refuses to apply for compensation. The insurance covers all medical expenses, an amount equal to 80% of the average salary during the period of rest, and in the case of injury, compensation will be proportional to an established scale of disability, from grade 1 to grade 14.

NEXT<>Contents