Examining the Acceptance of Foreign Care and Domestic Workers
from the Human Rights Perspectives
Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center (HURIGHTS OSAKA)
Keyword : care worker, domestic worker, Technical Intern Training Program, National Strategic Special Zones, marketization of care work services, acceptance of immigrants
Responding to the population aging and labor shortage, Japan is planning to expand the acceptance of long-term care workers/domestic workers. The presentation examines different frameworks of acceptance and discuss the challenges from the human rights perspective.
1. Current Foreign Care Workers
(1) Candidates of certified care workers who came to Japan under Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), beginning in 2008 from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. These candidates have to study and take the Japanese national exam within four years, while performing their duties at a care facility. If they passed the exam, they could continue to work and reside in Japan, but, if they failed, they would be forced to leave the country. By the fiscal year 2016, about 2,800 care workers in total came to Japan.
(2) Those who hold the status of Spouse of Japanese, Spouse of Permanent Resident, Long-Term Resident, or Permanent Resident (who have the qualifications to stay without work restrictions)
2. New Paths to Accept Foreign Workers to Japan in the Field of Caregiving
(1) ‘Nursing care （介護）’ was added to the Immigration Act’s list of residence status under the revised Immigration Control Act (2016). Foreign students who have received certification at a specialty school, college, or university in Japan can acquire residence status by working as a ‘certified care worker’.
(2) ‘Caregiving’ is to be included in the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) under which technical intern trainees have been working for current 74 types of works, such as textiles, machines and metals, construction, food manufacturing, fishing and agriculture, as the “Act on the Proper Implementation of the Technical Intern Training Program and the Protection of Technical Intern Trainees” (Act on Technical Internship) passed in November 2016.
3. Who Benefits from Caregiving Under the TITP ?
(1) The TITP was created in 1993 with the ostensible purpose of transferring Japanese skills and technology to developing countries, and assisting the economic development of these countries by developing human resources. However, in reality, the workers are employed by under-staffed medium-to-small-businesses, and treated as 3-year temporary laborers. Under this system many of these technical interns are suffering gross human rights violations.
(2) In many of the developing countries the technical interns come from (such as China, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia), caregiving is provided by the family rather than a paid job in the labor market. What can they do with the caregiving skills they acquired in Japan once they return home?
(3) The background of the policy lies in Japan’s serious lack of care workers. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimates, in the year 2025, when the baby boomer generation reaches the age of 75, there will be a 380,000-care worker deficiency in Japan. Nevertheless, the government continues to explain this acceptance of foreigners is not a response to the lack of workers in caregiving in Japan. Despite this denial, the needs on the Japanese side are obvious.
4. Acceptance of Domestic Workers
(1) Under the Revised Act on National Strategic Special Zones of July 2015, foreigners could work as domestic workers for up to three years, inside the ‘National Strategic Special Zones’ of Kanagawa, Osaka where about 33 female Filipino workers started to work around April 2017. The Government expressed that the purpose of the legislation was to encourage women’s participation in the work place by reducing the burden of household work, under the ‘Japan Revitalization Strategy 2014’.
(2) Employment conditions ; Direct full-time employment by a housekeeping service company, the assurance of wages equal or exceeding that of their Japanese counterparts, and the protection of labor laws.
(3) Housekeeping includes cooking, washing, cleaning, and other general house duties, but also extends to jobs like ‘necessary protection of children’ and other acts necessary for elderly (excluding feeding, bathing, and cleaning excrement).
5. Will the Rights of Domestic Workers be Protected Firmly?
(1) This acceptance plan is based on Neoliberal concepts of free-market principles and deregulation, the details stipulated in the Order for Enforcement of the Act and the Guidelines regarding how the program should be implemented, are ‘prudent’.
(2) Human rights concern: Behind the closed doors of households, high risks of human rights violations such as abuse of power and sexual harassment. Domestic workers fear punishment like the forced repatriation that occurred under the TITP, and, as a result, they are hesitant to assert their rights.
(3) The Immigration Act so far allowed only foreign diplomat, investor/business manager and highly skilled foreign professionals can employ foreign domestic workers. About 1,100 foreign domestic workers are in Japan in a year of which 80 % are from the Philippines. They are not covered by the Labor Laws.
(4) The government has no plan to ratify the ILO Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers (C189), while the rights of domestic workers are global concern.
6. Not as “Utilization of Human Resources”
(1) Japan’s system of long-term care insurance is still under review. In order to suppress insurance benefits, care work services for those who are not in dire need are decreasing. For example, cooking and cleaning, which are indispensable lifestyle services, will be excluded from insurance benefits. The “marketization of care work services” and the influx of foreign domestic workers are simultaneously advancing. The increasing acceptance of foreign domestic care workers would be an effort to compensate for a shortage of care workers.
(2) Prime Minister Abe repeatedly explains, “We are careful that this will not be misunderstood as an acceptance of immigrants.” In fact, the plan is deliberately referred to as ‘Utilization of Foreigners Conducting Housekeeping Services’, instead of calling as ‘domestic workers’. At the same time, the TITP is to be expanded, deliberately retained as ‘technical intern trainees’ (not as workers).
(3)The foreigner we accept are not merely “human resources” or a “workforce,” they are our colleagues in our workplaces, and neighbors in our communities, and are a part of our society. While the working conditions of Japanese workers are getting worse, civil society, including trade unions, could play an important role to forge solidarity with foreign workers, in order to protect the rights of both Japanese and foreign migrant workers.
Reference: (visited on 22 May 2017)
Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare外国人技能実習制度への介護職種の追加について
Cabinet Office Regional Innovation Promotion 家事支援外国人受入事業