4. Working Conditions of non-Japanese Workers and Labor Accidents

The Japanese construction business is considered to be a complicated system of subcontractors. The work itself is done not only by subcontracting firms, but even the labor market is controlled by subcontractors. The employers pay the wages to the workers through the recruiters, who in turn exploit the workers. But when it comes to foreigne workers, they are more severely exploited than their Japanese counter-partners. At times, 1,000 yen or up to 3,000 yen a day will be taken by the recruiters, and in extreme cases the undocumented workers will only receive 1/2 or 1/3 of the wages given to Japanese. Filipino workers receive a salary of 4,000 yen, called the 'Manila salary.' The undocumented workers are vulnerable to deception because of their illegal status, and low or unpaid wages are a matter-of-fact daily practice. Recruiters dealing with foreign workers, often stop paying their salaries for a full month, or they only pay half a month, or even one month after the job has been done in fear that the workers might run away.

According to a survey done on labor accidents by the Ministry of Labor in 1987, the number of persons injured or killed because of labor accidents in the construction and manufacturing industries reached a figure of 188,000. Casualties of foreign workers were also included, but most probably there were more who were not included. In other words, most of the injuries incurred by foreign workers are practically not covered by the labor insurance. Whenever foreign workers get injured or become sick they are lucky if their companies pay a minimal part of their medical expenses. In many instances they themselves have to pay the total cost. Since they do not have any health insurance, this is a big burden. When they are injured, many buy their own medicines often making their injuries and diseases worse.

Even when companies pay their hospital bills, workers are warned not to apply for labor insurance compensation: "If you remain silent our company will pay the medical expenses; but if you demand any labor compensation, we will inform Immigration and you will be deported."

Judging from my telephone consultations with workers in trouble, I can understand that foreign workers often feel worried about fair and total medical treatment. Due to their visa status, they are put in a disadvantageous situation where they are exposed to all kinds of discrimination and violations of their human rights.

5. Difficulties with the Labor Insurance

The first thing to be done whenever foreign workers ask for advice about a labor accident is to interview the employers of the companies concerned. Supposing that the casualty took place at the work site, and one mentions that the labor accident happens to a foreigner, who is working without a proper visa, the company immediately argues: "We did not know about it. Since that person has been working illegally we naturally thought that it was impossible to make use of labor insurance."

If the idea behind this is that they do not have such a right because they are not Japanese, then the same idea has to be applied to Japanese working in a foreign land. But if the meaning is that persons working without a proper visa do not have rights, then criminals are to be considered without any rights too. This will mean a total lack of human rights consciousness. Regardless of nationality, visa status or legality of employment, any person has to be covered by the labor insurance system in the case of labor accident. But, in fact, things do not work so easily.

1) The victims themselves face problems.

One of the main problems is language. Because they do not know Japanese, they cannot talk or make a protest to the company where they work, they cannot even look for a third party to represent them. And even if they have some knowledge of the language, they do not know where to go and what kind of regulations to follow. Some might go to the Labor Standards Inspection Office looking for help, but foreigners cannot easily write all the documents required to apply to the insurance bureau, in the case of a labor accident. They are badly in need of translators and experts on labor law.

A different problem is their fear to be exposed to Immigration officials on applying for compensation, and then to be deported. In fact, public officials have the obligation to inform Immigration whenever they know of undocumented foreigners or undocumented workers. But, past records show that the Labor Standards Inspection Office does not inform Immigration of such problems.

In the documents required for an application there is no need of writing one's nationality or visa status, but even if they are known employers strictly keep the privacy of the person involved. However, the some employers are likely to threaten them saying "If you apply for labor insurance compensation, we will report you to the Immigration." Companies will be searched if they do so, which makes the reporting practically impossible; but most foreign workers do not know that they give up. On top of this, they also worry about their fellow workers being arrested or about the possible loss of their jobs.

The last problem is the time needed to obtain compensation. In all, a month and a half is needed. It takes about a month to convince the employer to write all the official papers required by the Labor Standards Inspection Office. Once the documents are presented and approved, it will take about two weeks to get the compensation money. Sometimes the whole process takes three months. If during that time the injured worker is hospitalized there should not be a big problem, but if the person is discharged from the hospital before the compensation is provided and has to continue medical treatment, very often the victim gets into real trouble in order to meet daily living expenses.

2) Lack of cooperation from the companies.

When the company recognizes the labor casualty and agrees to make the application for compensation to the labor insurance office, all the necessary formalities proceed smoothly. Difficulties arise when the company rejects the application and denies the facts regarding the casualties, then it takes time to make an investigation of the fact, and to look for witnesses who can prove the labor accident.

The following are some reasons why companies dislike to be compensated by labor insurance: a) they ignore the possibilities of compensation to undocumented workers, b) heavier insurance charges are imposed on them, c) they are afraid of an investigation by Immigration (as reported above, the Labor Inspection Office does not report to Immigration,) d) they have to be careful not to damage their relationship to the contractor company. Although the subcontractor is directly responsible for their own workers, the labor insurance office regards the contractor as the employer. I mentioned earlier that the dependent relationship in the construction business is vertical, and if a subcontractor makes an application for a labor casualty to its contractor, then the stand of the subcontractor becomes weak. Even if the subcontractor agrees to apply for a compensation to the labor insurance office, the consent of the contractor is also needed.

Legally speaking, anybody can apply for labor insurance, but in practice, very few foreign workers obtain compensation after making their applications.

6. Proposals with Regard to Foreign Workers

In conclusion, non-skilled workers from abroad should be accepted legally. I would like to express further my views here.

It should not be forgotten that the Japanese invasion of Asian countries in the past produced many victims. The compensation provided was not enough, and many people have been deeply hurt in their hearts. A basic solution to this and true reconciliation will only take place, not through material compensation, but when Japan warmly accepts the people from those countries. The acceptance of workers is a good opportunity to do this. To be together and to learn from each other is to erase the present attitude of despising Asians. When that is done, the anti-Japanese feeling in Asian countries will disappear.

Japan's present postwar prosperity comes from its economic relationship of dominance over the Asian countries. Is it wrong to say that Japan's economic prosperity today rests on many sacrifices of Asian countries by making them dependent, in the name of official economic aid, and by exporting industrial waste and polluting factories which destroy the environments under the name of development? Now is the time for compensation. They call it: "social restoration of industrial profits," but I call it: "contributions of public profits to human society." Since the wealth of a nation is not only produced inside that nation, but is also the result of its relationships with other countries, such wealth must be shared with the people of other nations.

But the real objective issue is that Japanese business needs foreign labor. The actual labor shortage is not going to be solved locally, and many companies are already employing foreign workers. These workers are becoming an indispensable element to maintain the Japanese economy. Consequently, they should not be kept illegal and used as just mere labor, but they must be employed according to all fair economic rules.

Foreign workers have already gotten a definite place in the Japanese labor market. This need was a result of Japanese economic activities. The legal recognition of foreign unskilled workers is a matter of time. In the meanwhile, the problem is how to confront discrimination, violations of human rights and the unfavorable treatment they receive.

Japan must learn from the legislation already in existence in several Western countries, forbidding discrimination, like the English legislation regarding races, the American Civil Rights or the French legislation forbidding all racial discrimination. Japan must also pass special legislation to protect the human rights of foreign workers. The government should place special considerations on international conventions, which assure the rights of all kinds of immigrant people, including undocumented workers, and it should give special priority to their human rights. In the case of labor casualties this means: a) let the victims return to their own countries, after providing full medical care and compensation and b) even in the case of undocumented workers, let them make full use of labor insurance facilities, assuring the companies that they will not receive any unfavorable treatment because of it. In this way the injured persons as well as the companies could, free from fear, apply for labor insurance compensation.

Finally, many people in Japan now talk about internationalization. What does it really mean? Popular tours abroad? International awareness of businessmen? Isn't the most important element to pay attention to changes of attitude, towards the international society? For instance, in Europe now two big attitudinal changes are taking place. One is the legal recognition of a large number of immigrant workers, and the passing of special legislation to protect their rights (there are countries, in which more than 10% of the whole population is shared by the immigrant workers.) Another characteristic is that, as a result of the fall of divisor walls between countries, past tensions of national rivalries and competitions have totally disappeared.

The political ideas that encourages to care only for 'my country' and 'my people' must be abandoned. In placing the human being at the center and origin of our ideas, our awareness of being and living together in an atmosphere of mutual sharing, in other words a higher awareness of the human rights of people, a true coexistence and co-property will be the living elements today of our present human history. Is this not true internationalization?