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More and more foreigners in decontamination jobs

December 24, 2015

Record 790,000 foreigners work in Japan, many tackling risky jobs



Japan is increasingly depending on foreign workers to meet a shortfall in the domestic working population, but many of the jobs are menial or ones that nobody else wants.

Official figures show that a record 790,000 foreign nationals are now working in Japan, but the Japan Civil Liberties Union estimates there are more than 1 million.

According to the labor ministry, the number of working foreigners has increased by about 300,000 over a six-year period.

Many of them are doing jobs that most Japanese shun, such as decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture stemming from the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Childcare, nursing care and caring for seniors, as well as work on construction sites, provide employment for many foreign nationals.

A 41-year-old Bolivian of Japanese descent spent the summer doing decontamination work in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture. His main task was cutting grass along main roads.

He received 16,000 yen ($133) for an eight-hour shift.

The man came to Japan when he was 23 to find work and said the pay he received for the decontamination work was the highest he had seen in his 18 years in Japan.

Even though his wife was opposed, the man submitted an application for the decontamination work. There were 10 people in his group, and four, including himself, were foreigners.

An executive with the worker dispatch company that recruits workers for the decontamination work said foreigners are used because of a "lack of (Japanese) workers."

Earlier this year, the company for the first time sent six foreigners to do decontamination work.

Previously, those in charge on site had cringed at using foreigners, citing concerns about possible accidents or other problems. However, from this year, no such restrictions on foreigners have been put in place.

An official with a major construction company said, "With the Tokyo Olympics approaching, there will be an even greater shortage of workers, so there will likely be an increase in the number of foreigners doing decontamination work."

While the Japanese-Bolivian man thought he was receiving good wages, the Environment Ministry had suggested to companies a wage standard of 25,000 yen a day for the work he was doing.

Moreover, there are unscrupulous companies that are not upfront about paying their workers.

The man at first did not receive about 289,000 yen that was due him for a month's work in August and September.

When he asked the worker dispatch company that hired him, the man was told, "A different construction company will pay you."

The man contacted the three other foreigners who had all worked with him and he learned they had not been paid as well.

The man was only told in November by the construction company that he would be paid after he consulted with a labor union.

Even with all those problems, the man said, "I want to do decontamination work again. I used to work at a car parts factory, but I was not treated like a human being there. It was different at the decontamination work site."

The 790,000 figure for foreign workers comes from statistics for 2014 compiled by the labor ministry. However, because not all companies report on their foreign workers, the labor ministry number may only cover about 70 percent of the actual figure, according to Akira Hatate of the Japan Civil Liberties Union who is knowledgeable about issues related to foreign workers.

Hatate said that at least 1 million foreigners were already working in Japan.

With one estimate projecting a decrease of the Japanese working population by at least 20 million over the next 30 years, foreign workers will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role in the future.

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