Declaration Calling for the Introduction of a New System to Accept Foreign Workers and the Establishment of a New Society in which People from Various National Backgrounds can Live Together
The number of foreign workers residing in Japan has been steadily rising in recent times, with the number increasing from 1.08 million in October 2016 to in excess of 1.27 million in October 2017 (excluding special permanent residents), based on the status of reporting on the employment of foreign workers by employers, released by the Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare.
The main factor of the rise is the increased number of foreigners engaging in unskilled work, who mostly entered Japan through programs which were not originally aimed at accepting foreign workers, such as technical interns and foreign students working in a part-time capacity. Under the technical internship program in Japan, interns are assigned to designated organizations for the supposed purpose of transferring Japanese technology to overseas destinations. Accordingly, it involves a structural problem of not allowing the workers to change their workplaces and providing no choice but to follow their assigned organizations. This has resulted in serious human rights violations arising, such as violation of the Minimum Wage Act and compulsory return to such workers’ countries. A considerable number of foreign students are being forced to work long hours in addition to their school studies as their primary purpose in order to pay their tuition or a large amount of borrowings having been required in order to study in Japan. Some of these students have even ended up losing their residence status in Japan after having been found to have worked more than the 28 hours a week limit.
In light of concerns which have been expressed about labor shortages in the fields of construction, agriculture and nursing care facing our rapidly aging society and declining birthrate, the business world and local governments have been calling for further acceptance of foreign workers. In response to such call, the national government, in its “Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform 2018,” laid out a plan in June 2018 to establish “a new residence status to accept more foreign human resources,” assuming the acceptance of foreign workers in the above-mentioned fields. However, this new residence status limits the residency period up to 5 years, in general, and does not include accompanying family members. Moreover, it has been indicated that the technical internship system will still continue even after the government establishes such new qualification.
Along with the increase of foreign workers, the number of middle- and long-term foreign residents (including special permanent residents) have increased to more than 2.56 million as of the end of 2017. In addition, it is estimated that over 60,000 illegal residents also live in Japan. Including those who acquired their Japanese nationality after birth and those who have Japanese nationality but were born to foreign parents, Japan has now become a country where people from numerous different national backgrounds live together. In particular, with the above-described establishment of the new system to accept foreigners, it is expected that many more foreign workers will become members of Japanese society in the future.
When considering the living environment for people with foreign national backgrounds as community members, support for studying Japanese and maintaining the culture of their home countries has not yet been adequately provided on a national scale. The rules for residence status in Japan for children and family members of foreign nationality are not in accordance with international conventions on human rights. Further, both the legislative and administrative bodies of the government have just recently begun to address the eradication of discriminatory behaviors and other forms of discrimination against those from different national backgrounds.
In the first place, all human beings are entitled to enjoy the human rights set forth under the Constitution and international human rights laws, regardless of their nationality, and regardless of what kind of residence status they possess. It is imperative that human rights should not be easily restricted based on their nationality and ethnic backgrounds, on account of the current state policy or the interests of employers. Now that the design for the new system for accepting foreigners is being discussed, the most urgent issue is to build such system in a manner that guarantees human rights and to thereby realize a truly multicultural society.
Accordingly, the JFBA calls for the national and local governments to act as follows:
1. The government should implement the following measures in order to establish a system to accept foreign workers and guarantee their human rights:
(1) Immediately abolish the current technical internship program;
(2) Fulfill the following conditions when establishing a system for accepting unskilled workers, including the new system under consideration by the government, explicitly targeting the acceptance of unskilled workers:
(i) Grant the freedom to change their workplace;
(ii) Eliminate brokers in Japan, as well as in source countries, by employing national agencies, through bilateral agreements or the like; and
(iii) Provide support for stable lives of the entire family of the worker based in Japan, without forcing them to live apart from their family members for an extended time
(3) Implement the following measures in order to ensure the rights of foreign workers as a whole:
(i) Strictly prohibit discrimination in working conditions, such as wages, on the grounds of nationality and ethnic group;
(ii) Enhance a framework for consultation and conflict resolution in order to ensure the rights of workers; and
(iii) Enhance job training programs, including Japanese language studying, and the employment placement system, as a governmental obligation
2. The following measures should be implemented in order to establish a society where people from various national backgrounds can live together and to protect the human rights of all people:
(1) The national and local governments should raise the allocation of professional faculty members and introduce school social workers to educate children and adults who have foreign national backgrounds about Japanese language as well as their native language in order to preserve their ethnic identities, and improve necessary facilities therefor; further, the government should support the activities of international exchange associations, NGOs and other organizations that are dedicated to the same purpose. In addition, in order to stabilize the lives of children who have foreign national backgrounds, the national government should relax the requirements for changing the residence status of children who have family dependent status;
(2) The national government and local governments should realize a system that allows foreigners to easily access and make full use of medical services, social security services and the legal aid program, and should support the operation of such system in cooperation with international exchange associations, NGOs and other organizations;
(3) The national government should relax and clarify the requirements in laws concerning long-term residents and special permission for residence based on the provisions of international human rights treaties in order to stabilize the residence status of foreigners, and including their children and other family members. The national government should also review the requirements for obtaining or losing nationality, including relaxing the restrictions on holding multiple nationalities; and
(4) The national and local governments should end discrimination in the appointment of public posts such as conciliation committee members and school teachers, and should develop anti-discrimination laws including the prohibition of discriminatory conduct by private citizens, such as housing or employment discrimination, and restrictions on discriminatory speech. In addition, in order to provide the effective remedy of human rights, the national government should realize the establishment of national human rights institutes and individual complaints mechanisms defined under human rights treaties.
3. The following institutional improvements should be carried out in order to draft and implement the measures set forth above:
(1) Local governments should establish departments that implement measures such as those described above for the creation of a community in which people from all types of different national backgrounds are able to live together; and
(2) The national government should establish a framework for implementing measures such as those described above, as a responsibility for national and local governments, in order to create such a society in which people from different national backgrounds can live together in harmony. The national government should also enact a law that defines a basic policy for the acceptance of foreigners (tentatively titled the “Law on Coexisting and Realizing a Multicultural Society”), and establish a ministry to supervise the implementation of the above measures (tentatively, the “Ministry for a Multicultural Society”).
The national and local governments should take concrete actions toward the creation of a vibrant Japanese community in which all of society, including foreign nationals, can live together and in which human rights are equally guaranteed.
The JFBA is determined to exert its best efforts to realize the above measures.
October 5, 2018
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations