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Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (SMJ)’s Views on “Panel Report and Recommendations on Technical Intern Training Program (TITP)”

Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan (SMJ) is a nationwide network of individuals and groups that aim at protecting lives and rights of migrants and their families, supporting their empowerment and establishing a better multiethnic/multicultural society.

We present in the following sections our views on a “Panel Report and Recommendations on Technical Intern Training Program (TITP)” (Ginoujisshuusei no minaoshi no houkousei nikansuru kentoukekka (houkoku), hereinafter, Panel Report) which was submitted to the Minister of Justice in June 2014 by “6th Advisory Panel on Immigration Control Policy (hereinafter Advisory Panel) and Subcommittee on Policy to Accept Foreigners (hereinafter, Subcommittee)” of the Ministry of Justice. We hope our views to be reflected in formulating measures and in revising the relevant legal system.

 

  1. Brief Overview

Since the establishment of TITP, we have been advocating to abolish TITP, which is set a ground for human rights violations that creates structures of human trafficking and slave labor. We have also been advocating for establishing another program to accept foreign workers that guarantees the rights complying with domestic laws and international norms.

However, much to our regret, Panel Report avoids facing realities over twenty years since the rights violations under the TITP have been reported, and it even advocates for the expansion of TITP, instead of its abolishment.

Efforts to re-examine TITP have been made to correct its defects. However, the program’s expansion should be discussed only after those corrective measures take effect, not at the same time as the implementation of those measures. The program’s expansion without addressing existing problems can only lead to worsen the structural contradictions of the program.

It should be noted that our previous criticisms and proposals have been taken into account in individual corrective measures. However, the government must closely observe effective implementation of those measures and should be held accountable for the process of implementation and its outcome.

 

  1. Panel’s Review of the TITP

(1) Correcting Defects of the Program

① Dealing with Improper Supervising Organizations and Implementing Organizations

With regards to improper supervising organizations and implementing organizations, Panel Report recommends establishing penal provisions in place and publicizing organization names, etc..  As we have long been advocating such sanctions against improper organizations, we hope these recommendations will be implemented.  However, Panel Report also states that “publicizing organization names, etc. will be implemented according to the degree of impropriety.” It is likely that the effect of such sanctions will be undermined considerably depending on how this “degree of impropriety” will be defined. In relation to the effectiveness of “penal provisions,” we intend to pay a close attention to specifics, such as a kind of penal provisions, legal bases, and public offices in charge.

② Transfer to Other Implementing Organizations

In order to tackle human rights violations and other problems, Panel Report calls for a “flexible mechanism,” where technical interns can be transferred from improper implementing organizations to proper organizations.  Currently, the fundamental problem resides the fact that these workers are unable to freely change their workplaces: a major reason why the program is criticized as a ground for slave labor. Therefore, technical interns’ opinions should be fully respected in deciding the transfer.

③ Wage Level

Although it is stated in the Ministerial Ordinance on Criteria for Landing that foreign workers will receive “either equal or higher wage compared to Japanese workers,” in reality, their wage remains at the level of minimum wage which is lower than the starting wage of junior high-school graduates. With regard to this matter, Panel Report states that it will “set concrete indicators depending on the business sector and the level of skill acquirement.” However, this statement will not be effective unless such “concrete indicators” are set at appropriate levels and are clearly indicated by numbers. It is necessary to further consider a mechanism to set such “concrete indicators.”

④ Bilateral Agreements with Sending Countries

Panel Report recommends for bilateral agreements in order to tackle inappropriate conducts by sending organizations in origin countries.

We have long been advocating this point as well, and it should be pointed out that Japan is fundamentally responsible for human rights violations against technical interns. It should also be noted that it is the side of Japanese supervising/implementing organizations that initiate collaboration with sending organizations including “malicious sending organizations” as indicated in the Report.  They make demands and suggestions to sending organizations to collect fees such as guarantee deposit from technical interns and impose unjust everyday-life rules.

With above matters in mind, when bilateral agreements are realized, it should be stipulated that sending organizations must abide by standards of Japanese immigration laws. The governments of sending countries should also be accountable for conducts of sending organizations. These are necessary for the protection of technical interns.  When technical interns demanded unpaid overtime wage to their employers based on court’s rulings, etc. in Japan, there were cases in which they had to pay penalty fees to their sending companies in violation of promises made earlier in their sending countries. Thus, realization of technical interns’ rights has been hampered due to the fact that illegal conducts in Japan (guarantee deposit, penalty fee, etc.) are “legal” in technical interns’ home countries.

As for sending organizations that do not abide by standards stipulated in Japan’s Ministerial Ordinance on Criteria for Landing, the program should be revised to ban them from sending technical interns to Japan for the same period of time as corresponding Japanese supervising/implementing organizations are banned because of their “wrongful acts.”

 

⑤ Measuring Achievement upon Completion of Technical Intern Training

Panel Report recommends “skills evaluation test will be conducted upon completion of technical intern training (ii).” However, “Basic Grade 2 Skills Test” was originally made easy to enable a smooth transition from “trainee” status to “technical intern” status. This skills test is a mere formality, and its passing rate is 99.7 percent. We have made proposals in the past to “make Grade 3 Skills Test obligatory upon completion of technical intern training (ii).” Therefore, the level of “skills evaluation test” proposed in Panel Report need to be effective and more than a mere formality.

⑥ Effective Supervision by Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO)

Panel Report states “it is crucial to reinforce supervising system by authority.”  However, it proposed  “an organization with legal basis is to be established (outside the government)” due to limits of administrative and financial scarce in public sector.

In reality, it is likely that this will just lead to strengthening and expanding JITCO. JITCO receives over 1.2 billion yen (around 12 million US dollars) from its member organizations, which account for approximately 60 percent of its total revenue (over 2 billion yen, or 2 million US dollars). As its membership fees are collected from supervising and implementing organizations, we cannot expect JITCO to supervising them, while fulfilling its mission to provide services to them at the same time.

(2) Expansion of the Program

① Extension of Training Period/ Re-entry as a Technical Intern

Panel Report states that “technical interns who are accepted by ‘good’ supervising/implementing organizations and fulfill certain conditions” “will be approved to extend their training period for about two years or to re-enter Japan again as a technical intern.”

However, it does not touch upon clear conditions for supervising/implementing organizations to be ‘good.’ According to “Emergency Measure” of the government to accept foreign workers for construction sector, a ‘good’ organization is one that “has neither committed a ‘wrongful acts’ nor received punishment in the past five years,” but this definition is far from sufficient, given limited cases of “wrongful acts” formally recognized by the government.  An attempt to overcome defects of the current program by giving an incentive to achieve “goodness” simply places priorities backward.   As TITP claims to aim for international cooperation, only those who achieved that purpose should be qualified as “good.”

② Raising quota of the Maximum Number of Technical Interns Accepted in Each Implementing Organization

Panel Report proposes that “with respect to ‘good’ implementing organizations, the number of technical interns per organization can be increased,” raising quota set according to the size of employees.

The same criticism stated above (①) is applicable for this issue. This all-too-easy increase of the number of technical interns per organization is a mere response to the domestic demand.  This will only lead to widening program’s problems.

 

③ Adding the New Types of Job Approved in TITP

Panel Report states that “job types can be increased according to the situations of different industries” such as “automobile repair business, forestry, production of prepared food, service businesses including nursing care and store management.” It also states “it is necessary to have a sufficient discussion based on features of each job type.”

However, since there basically is no limit to job types during the current residence status of technical intern training (i), which lasts one year, it is possible even under the current program to have technical intern training in those industries for one year. Therefore, increasing the number of approved job types means to realize additional two years of technical intern training of newly approved jobs with technical intern training (ii).

It remains unclear how the above-mentioned particular job types were suggested in the first place; however, as nursing care is included, it is obvious that they were chosen to fulfill from domestic labor shortage. In fact, hearings were conducted four times at Subcommittee, but no hearing from sending countries was conducted, though they are the main beneficiaries of “international cooperation.” Thus, the current debate is grossly one-sided.

  1. Concluding Remarks

In Subcommittee’s “main argument,” it first discusses “whether TITP should continue to exist or not,” and introduces some pro-abolishment arguments. However, it then stresses “the significance of  TITP’s role for international cooperation for developing countries” as if its intention is to dismiss the pro-abolishment arguments. Here is a fatal error in how the facts are recognized. It is highly regrettable that the facts are examined insufficiently. Since its establishment, TITP has always provided labor for mainly small and medium sized businesses, but this actual purpose of the program has been disguised. In this respect, 2010 revision of the program was supposed to eliminate that role in fulfilling labor shortage by concentrating true “international cooperation” conducted only in “Kenshu (or simply, training) program.”   With respect to “international cooperation,” the difference between proper training programs and TITP is most obvious in the figures that were released after the program’s revision.

However, the fact that TITP has many problems, including human rights violations, is shared among the government, Advisory Panel, its Subcommittee and us. We also agree on the need for a “fundamental debate and study on acceptance of foreign workers,” and this is mentioned in the Panel Report.

Therefore, now is the chance for the government to finally stop its discussion on policy to accept foreign workers based on TITP. TITP should be abolished, and a new program should promptly be discussed, so that human and labor rights of migrant workers are fully ensured.

June 16th, 2014

Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan

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