3. Labor Administration Without a Sense of Labor Protection:

The Labor Ministry issued notices regarding foreign workers in 1988, 1989 and 1990. The first notice they made states as follows: It has been disclosed that an increasing number of foreigners disguising as tourists have entered Japan and started to work illegally. An increase of such foreigners is likely to affect adversely the domestic labor market and work conditions in general.

The Labor Ministry tries to shift the responsibility of degrading the work conditions to the foreigners by displaying a distorted image of them as "disguised tourists" while intentionally ignoring the main cause of the labor shortage in Japan. In the very beginning when the issue of labor accidents among foreigners became apparent, the Labor Standards Inspection Office in Kanto area asked the foreign workers to present a passport when they came to the office for application. They considered a foreign worker as a possible violator of the Immigration Law, and never thought that they were responsible for protecting those workers. People put the label of "illegal workers" on them, however, they have never violated the human rights of others nor have they done damage to others. Rather, it is their human rights that are violated.

With a superficial understanding of the reality, not only the Labor Ministry, but also the government and all local governments actually play a role in inducing the violation of the human rights of foreign workers by employers or brokers. They should work to improve the actual situations of subcontractors and work out the policies that can protect their rights. Through our support work, we strongly felt it necessary to pressure the administrations to make a more effective policy that can promote a solution of the problem of labor accidents among foreign workers.

4.Starting a Support Networking for Foreign Workers in the Kansai Area:

On December 4, 1991, 'Kansai Network for All Foreign Workers and Their Family Members (RINK)" was formed by local labor unions, citizen groups, lawyers and individuals with the main purpose of improving the legislative and administrative systems that affect the human rights of foreign workers.

As its first work, RINK submitted a proposal with the following requests to the Labor Standards Inspection Office in Osaka: to guarantee the rights of foreign workers and not report them to the Immigration; and, to make the labor laws including the labor accident insurance law known to all employers and employees. The authorities, in response, expressed their view not to "report" by saying "We cannot positively state that we will not report to the Immigration, but we practice labor administration on the side of respect for the human rights." Also, they promised that they would explain orally the labor laws to the employers and employees whenever necessary, though not in a written form.

With the increasing number of foreign workers, and the extension of their stay, the problems surrounding them are expanding into the fields of social welfare such as marriage, divorce, child birth, education, medical treatment and criminal procedures.

The Health and Welfare Ministry submitted a notice of "Life Assistance to Foreigners in Trouble" in 1954. Since then, medical assistance was given to foreign residents who did not have the national health insurance until the Autumn of 1991 when the Ministry instructed local governments "not to give life assistance to foreign non-permanent residents."

In October, 1991, Minatomachi Clinic in Kanagawa Prefecture started their own scheme of health insurance for foreign residents. Those who join this scheme are allowed medical treatment at the clinic at the same expenses charged to a subscriber of the National Health Insurance. To be a subscriber, each foreign resident should pay a certain amount of money every month. However, this insurance scheme does not work when patients need to be hospitalized.

The policy of the Health and Welfare Ministry is just merciless, and medical institutes with good intentions treat those foreign residents who have no official assistance to pay for their medical fees. It has been pointed out by some medical people that the foreign patients are sometimes blamed for the frustrating situation caused by impractical and unrealistic official system. In this context, too, the administrations have a heavy responsibility to protect the human rights of foreigners.

In the past 2 years, the argument to accept foreign workers or not has become more controversial throughout the country. However, looking at the recent phenomena, their actual situation far exceeds this hot debate. Undoubtedly more and more foreigners will come to Japan seeking jobs. The point is how we can change the existing system and the tendency that allows a rampant violation of human rights concerning foreigners.

It is inevitable for people in the third world whose own economic basis have been destructed and marginalized in the world economic system to come to Japan seeking their means of living. When they arrive in Japan, they are confronted with unjust practices such as uncovered labor accidents, unpaid wages or rejection to rent an apartment for the reason that they do not have an adequate visa for employment. We should keep working to solve the causes of these unfair practices.

Iwata Kenji
Kansai Labor Safety Center