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'Black companies' exploiting foreign trainees

44 Comments

“Sure, I’ll introduce you to as many of my trainees as you like!”

The factory owner was all enthusiasm when journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, on assignment for Sapio (September), contacted him. Suzuki was investigating the “black corporations” much in the news of late – companies that illegally underpay and overwork their employees in shockingly blatant defiance of the most elementary labor standards. Though Japanese workers reportedly suffer abundant abuse of this kind, especially vulnerable are the foreign “trainees,” some 50,000 of them as of 2011, who are in Japan supposedly to acquire skills they can take home to speed their own countries’ economic growth.

Yes, Suzuki’s contact agreed, the situation is awful – not, however, he insisted, at "his" establishment, a small clothing maker some three hours by car out of Osaka. (We’ll call him Kato for convenience.)

Kato is a former yakuza executive and proud of it. It taught him the importance of family ties, he said. “My trainees want to do lots of overtime but I say, ‘Don’t force yourselves.’ I give them one day off a month.”

One day off a month?

The three Chinese trainees Suzuki meets work at sewing machines and show no sign of discontent. Presumably the language barrier precludes in-depth questioning. The dorms look neat and clean.

“In the evening we go to a Chinese restaurant for a little party. Sometimes we go to an amusement park. The overtime I pay is strictly regulation. I have nothing to feel guilty about.”

Suzuki is not so sure. Kato, open as ever, lays out his payroll records. They show him paying on average 287 yen for overtime, far below the minimum wage of 652 to 850 yen an hour. Listen, he says when Suzuki questions him – “at some factories they work their employees from 8 in the morning until 6 the next morning, giving them all of two hours’ sleep. We’re better than that.”

That seems to be true, but it’s not saying much.

The program allows for a three-year stay in Japan. The first year is for classroom training and the following two, for those who pass the requisite exam, are for hands-on work experience. The abuses that have crept into a system designed for a humanitarian spreading of skills and wealth can be inferred from the pride Kato takes in the conditions – inadequate by any objective Japanese standard – at his operation. Suzuki says amendments in 2009 to laws governing the program in theory made the minimum wage applicable to the trainees but in fact changed little.

The fact seems to be that the weakest members of any labor force, Japanese or foreign, are easy for employers to exploit regardless of the law – the Japanese because they hesitate to quit, knowing how hard better jobs are to find in this still-struggling economy; and foreigners because, not knowing their way around the unfamiliar culture and often not speaking the language, they tend to be helpless against abuses that at worst include, besides hard work and low pay, insults, corporal punishment and the withholding of pay altogether.

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44 Comments
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The fact seems to be that the weakest members of any labor force, Japanese or foreign, are easy for employers to exploit regardless of the law

Untrue. Foreign employees are much easier to exploit. You get a foreigner and don't pay them for a few months (like certain major Eikaiwa companies did), then when they complain you fire them. Now the foreigner is working against the clock. They have a couple of months to find a new job or they're out of the country. If they find a new job their new employer won't look kindly on them suing their old employer since it involves taking a lot of leave, but if they go back home it is virtually impossible to prosecute a successful case against their previous employer.

Japanese workers often don't complain, but when they at least have a recourse to the legal system here. Foreign employees don't.

26 ( +28 / -2 )

Frungy, spot on. I experienced something similar; worked through an agency for a few years, then was unceremoniously not given a new contract. No warning, no reason given, etc. Totally shady, and totally Japanese. I seriously think the desire to fire at will is a major reason these intermediary agencies manage to exist, skirting the law their pay and practices; the employer doesn't have the balls to tell someone to their face that they are fired, but dearly loves having the ability to do so, so they use an agency.

In all my time here, I have worked with hundreds of different Japanese people who have been variously full time tenured, part time, hourly paid, weekly paid, monthly contracted, yearly contracted, etc etc., and despite a lot of disgracefully poor working practices, and total ineptitude at the most basic of tasks, I have never seen a single Japanese not have their contract renewed, and I certainly have never seen any Japanese getting fired. It is pretty much unheard of, unless they do something GROSSLY out of line (ie, illegal).

Foreign workers, on the other hand... I don't think there exists a foreigner who has been here for over 5 years who has not had at least one dodgy thing happen to their job, be that non-renewal of contract, payment issues, weird passive-aggressive feedback about performance, some weird complaint about a non-issue, etc.

It really is dodgy as hell here.

19 ( +20 / -1 )

Well, following on from the above, I am a manager in a Japanese company, and have been one for 15 years on renewable one-year contracts. All Japanese staff are full time (shaiin) from day one, but western management is not. Article 3 of Tokyo Labor Standards Law says there can be no discrimination based on "race, creed or colour", but I am yet to meet a non-Japanese (employed in Japan) who is truly employed on the same shaiin basis that all Japanese staff in my company are.How can any country be this discriminatory towards foreigners when it has laws governing their employment? All companies are "black companies" when it comes to non-Japanese workers and none of them are forced to follow the laws of the land when non-Japanese workers are involved. We can even win cases using Labor Standards, but nothing happens to the company apart from a tiny fine. The "compensation" money we'll receive for our abuses is derisory, and almost always comes with the proviso that we have left the company in question. If this is how western managers from the UK and USA are treated, what hope do Chinese "trainees" have?

25 ( +26 / -1 )

Never work in japan. You will be treated as disposable toy to be used, abused and got rid of like something dogs do on the street. Hopeless country.

9 ( +15 / -6 )

Should the headline read- 'black companies' exploiting foreign "trainees"

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I don't think there exists a foreigner who has been here for over 5 years who has not had at least one dodgy thing happen to their job

I've never seen a legal contract in Japan. My friend even worked for the city government and his contract included items that were contrary to labor law.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

I wouldn't wish Japanese work culture onto anyone.

13 ( +17 / -4 )

There just has never been any laws to protect the workers. Why? Because there has never been a political party that represents the middle class in Japan...

8 ( +11 / -3 )

Nessie, I've seen a so-called contract drawn up by one of Japan's top four legal firms, and it is entirely illegal. If the government and the lawyers don't bother with the law, there is no hope for anyone else eh.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Saxon salute, well just since you said you'd never seen a foreigner w/ the same contract as a J full timer, I thought I would write in. My contract is full time, full retirement and other benefits, same bonuses and salary, and the same responsibilities, with the added fact that I may get excused from some duties because of language strength problems. (I am fluent and read and write, but some things just take me too much time to be worth expecting I do it the same as a j-employee). They even hired me at my age-salary (really standard practice for anyone getting hired by this co to be hired at their age-salary). Our contract is legal and relatively generous.

In the years before this full time job, I had a few bad experiences, but far more good experiences.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

Saxon Salute; yeah, I am in the same situation as you now. I am employed by a Japanese company doing the same job as the Japanese people in my office (hell, I do my work a lot faster, never sleep at my desk, etc. but let's not get into that here; you know the deal!), but unlike everyone else in my office, I am on a yearly contract. It is scary, knowing that at any time, I could be told they are not going to renew my contract. It honestly keeps me from doing things like going all out and buying a house here, or signing up for a decent, expensive apartment, etc, as I am in a constant state of self-preservation, especially towards the end of every contract cycle. I work with a few other foreigners in the same office who like me, are on yearly renewable contracts and some of them have done things like start families, and buy cars, etc., and I honestly get a shudder going down my spine when they tell me how they have locked themselves into long term payment plans for these things, on the same contract I am on. I feel they are skating on extremely thin ice!

And all because the Japanese refuse to let us integrate, like we want to.

14 ( +16 / -2 )

Lowly, good for you, but I've never met you, nor anyone else in your position in 20 years working in business here. I've met high school teachers who thought they were shaiin and I've met people lie me in business with so-called full-time contracts on the proper systems, but the status has always been fudged, and none of them are truly "employed" on the same basis as their Japanese counterparts.

15 ( +17 / -2 )

I know a lot of people in my area in this situation, and it is hell for them, and hell for the nation. They hire them for the so-called "3-K" jobs and then fire them if there are any complaints and/or after the job is done. Needless to say, no benefits. The only one of them I know that is not living too bad is a half-Brazilian, half-Japanese who could get a permanent visa because his mom poked (non Facebook) a Brazilian while he was there. He still gets screwed though -- working the toughest jobs for the lowest amounts.

Guess who will be building the Olympic venues!

10 ( +10 / -0 )

I think the crux of the problem is that no Japanese people are willing to stand up for the rights of foreigners. Many people will not agree with the situations or in even more cases not even be aware of it but they will never stand up for people. Unfortunately the prevailing opinion is that you are Japanese first and a human being second and until this changes Japanese society will only continue to hurt itself. It sometimes seems that just being Japanese is a moral position in itself regardless of the actual issue. I think that people here can honestly be some of the kindest and most considerate people on earth but they are sometimes the moral compass can be off and very few people are willing to take a stand against things they know are wrong. On the other end the leeches and parasites can continue to exploit the weaker people in society because the good majority stand by and simply say and do nothing.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Maybe one problem is that none of the Japanese expect anyone to actually want to STAY here permanently- they EXPECT people to either plan to leave, or get fed up with it all and then leave. So then it seems unwise to give someone like that the responsibilities and opportunities of someone you know will stay.

And when treated that way, we do actually leave.

The system feeds on itself.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

One thing is that if we want the same rights as Japanese people we have to accept the same responsibilities. Too many of us want rights and nothing in return for the society, this seems to me to be immature and selfish and part of the reason there is such as sense of entitlement in many of our home countries. The question is- would we really want the same responsibilities as the average Japanese person?

-8 ( +4 / -12 )

The debate over whether Japanese or foreign workers have it worse is pointless. Workers around the world, besides the relative few with good contracts and conditions, are exploited and not paid the real value of their output, otherwise there would be no profits generated by owners of capital. Globalization is mainly about creating a global labour market so supply exceeds demand and the price of labour falls. Instead of nations protecting their people or guest workers (as this case shows), they now compete to attract capital by creating ever weaker labour standards and doing nothing to protect workers. Only when workers unite beyond ethnicity and nationality will the downward spiral be reversed.

In my own experience, as a foreigner working in Japan, I was fired without cause and a local union helped me take my case to court and win. The union didn't care that I was not Japanese and I couldn't have done it without their help. We need to stand together.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Well Saxon, I know many like me, and many who have part time work who are happy with it. It is partly how you look at things, and partly the luck of the draw/ character of the institution.

pochan's last post raises a good point- responsibility, it is a totally different concept from ours, US/ western. And not many foreigners, esp westerners, appreciate it or like it. I personally have gotten so used to it and accept it or like certain aspects of it more, that it is not a problem with me, and this is one of the reasons I am trusted I suppose. On the other hand, this country has a very big problem accepting new ideas/ different cultures. And where I come from, there would be much more lattitude given to foreigners with different customs/ concepts about responsibility/ ways of doing things.

Bottom line, it is easier for you the more you can take in J culture as your own, and having your own rejected is always going to be a stressor for you. How to get j-culture more open to different ways of doing things? Possible?

Who knows. Good luck is all I can say.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

pochan -

One thing is that if we want the same rights as Japanese people we have to accept the same responsibilities. Too many of us want rights and nothing in return for the society, this seems to me to be immature and selfish and part of the reason there is such as sense of entitlement in many of our home countries. The question is- would we really want the same responsibilities as the average Japanese person?

Responsibilities like what? Paying taxes? Already doing that. Volunteering? Check. There is nothing selfish or immature about wanting to get paid the same as Japanese equivalents.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Responsibilities like what?

A Japanese friend of mine is going into work today, with a cold, despite the national holiday, because a different employee dropped the ball and now the section is under a strict deadline to clean up the mess. Of course, without the overtime pay stipulated by law.

This situation would be unquestionably out of order for most people from my home country, but here nobody bats an eyelash.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Responsibilities:

One place where I was doing contract work wanted me to go in to work (Tokyo) on the DAY AFTER 311! Right after all those people couldn't get home the night before, and trains weren't even running from my area yet. I said I couldn't, and they wanted me to "try as best I could". I knew that if I went in, there was no guarantee I was going to get back home again that night. I had a family, wasn't sure if food supplies were going to be available in the near future, or if further quakes were going to strike. So I said no. I ended up quitting that job within a week of that due to further demands.

As to the Japanese workers, they all spent the day "trying" to get there, but none of them actually made it.

Either that, or they just said they were trying, and were at home like I was.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Business as usual for any eikaiwa, really...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@warispeace

In my own experience, as a foreigner working in Japan, I was fired without cause and a local union helped me take my case to court and win. The union didn't care that I was not Japanese and I couldn't have done it without their help.

I had a very similar experience. I had a good lawyer and the union who both helped me win. It can be scary to want to try though ! We both risked it and were lucky !

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I started in a company as Jun shyain (one year contract) but I think they are reasonably fair about it and above board. I think that the main reason J companies would be reluctant to give the full deal to foreigners, as I would be also, is that foreigners track records are probably not that good. Also how many of the people here are native level J speakers? How many can actually perform the duties they need to with out language help? I certainly cannot function at the level that I can in my own country so in some ways its an obvious outcome.

All the Eikaiwa companies are operating out side the law (supposedly in the grey zone but that's not true either) and after entering a this new company I can see just how much the Eikaiwa companies take advantage of foreigners, paying admin staff from the work of the teachers with no cream for the teachers. I may well find out that this company is also not so good but by far better than any crappy English school.

However outright exploitation like in the article is just plain wrong.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is not that the foreigners are just suffering at the workplace, what is happening when you are going to hire an apartment, what is happening when you are going to get social services, what is is happening when you are going to face police at the streets or immigration officials in their offices. what about the foreign children in the schools, the list just goes on.

with shrinking population and a large number of senior citizens, how Japan will maintain its gigantic infrastructure and the states of the world's third largest economy along with the new task of building the Olympic avenue.

forcing the old citizens to work beyond the limit of their age or forcing the housewives to raise children and to work at the same time is not the solution.

the strange part of all these problems is that the Japanese officials do realize the importance of the foreigners in the situation but they do not like to discuss at in their policies or some even can not dare to talk about it.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

@scoobydoo

You hit the nail on the head... even smashed it. They don't even pay for the train commute, health insurance, sick pay... the list goes on and on. Yet I pay full taxes...

I even have to buy my own stationery!

How they get away with negligence of this magnitude just boggles the mind.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

When I worked at Nova, my neighbour was a labour and immigration lawyer. He asked to see my contract as he wanted to compare it to a client's. After a few minutes he started chuckling and asked "Do you know that this contract is illegal?"

if the biggest eikaiwa in the country (at the time) can get away with it, anyone can.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

gaihonjin: "A Japanese friend of mine is going into work today, with a cold, despite the national holiday, because a different employee dropped the ball and now the section is under a strict deadline to clean up the mess. Of course, without the overtime pay stipulated by law. This situation would be unquestionably out of order for most people from my home country, but here nobody bats an eyelash."

You seem to state this like it were a good thing or something to be proud of, instead of LITERALLY being criminal. That's not responsibility -- it's downright irresponsible.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

In the Japanese work force, is there any unions? if so, do they back foreign trainees and work forces?? If they don't hve a union may be its about time they did!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Brian: A foreign trainee wouldn't be able to join a Japanese union. As to foreign workers, I am now in a Japanese union because I have one of the rare same-as-a-Japanese-person position/contract. Foreign workers with different-from-Japanese contracts as well as contracted (not lifetime employed) Japanese labor are usually not accepted into these unions. It's based on your contract/position, not whether or not you are foreign. So you can see that this is difficult to attain only because, from previous comments, such a position is difficult to get for a foreigner. In many cases, it is not so easy for Japanese to get either, not without going to the right universities or having been a housewife for a decade, or a variety of other things that leave a lot of the population outside of the benefits that come with lifetime employment.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Working legally in Japan either as locals or expat, you are already (indirectly) forced to work from 8am till 10pm or even later on daily basis. What could it be when you are considered illegal workers or foreign low-waged workers?

“My trainees want to do lots of overtime but I say, ‘Don’t force yourselves.’ I give them one day off a month.” - Wow, he is so proud to announce that and so kind to give 1 day off a month! This guy should be voted the best employer of the month!

In Australia, legally speaking, no one is allowed to work more than 60 hours in a week without a rest day. In other words, one is allowed to work 10hrs a day for 6 days, then he/she gets 1 day off...... not 1 day for 1 month of hard-labour underpaid work, idiots!

This Yakuza guy should be locked up for exploiting foreign workers.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

i was also a victim of this kind of scheme... though it was not a factory but a software development company, they forced me and my partner overtime work, until the next day "tetsuya", without any overtime pay... though according to the rules... trainees are forbidden to "work" and receive money.... but it is also illegal to make us do overtime work... so what we did is we reported them to AOTS. lolz... that would teach them a lesson

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The overtime I pay is strictly regulation. I have nothing to feel guilty about

.”

Suzuki is not so sure. Kato, open as ever, lays out his payroll records. They show him paying on average 287 yen for overtime, far below the minimum wage of 652 to 850 yen an hour. ”

Paying 287 yen for overtime and you called it strictly regulation and not feeling guilty about it? Overtime my @ss!!! I can't imagine what you would pay on normal working hours then!

Listen, he says when Suzuki questions him – “at some factories they work their employees from 8 in the morning until 6 the next morning, giving them all of two hours’ sleep. We’re better than that."

Yea much better, 50% I guess, at least his employees get 3 hours sleep or maybe 100% better I suppose, that means 4 hours sleep!

Asking opinions from idiots or morons will only get idiotic or moronic comments. Garbage In Garbage Out! What a waste of time interviewing @ssholes!!!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I know things like these exists. I recommend this very good japanese movie about BLACK KAISHAS. http://asianwiki.com/Genkai_in_a_Black_Company

2 ( +2 / -0 )

....You know, before I started reading JT, I dreamed of working in Japan. 3 years or more later and I completely changed my mind. I've had friends telling me their working conditions in Japan and there is no chance I would ever agree to such terms. I'm sorry, I don't live to work, I WORK to make money to live with but my work is not my life and god forbid it ever will, unless I'm self employed.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Qamar,

Don't let something like JT quash your dreams. This is an outlet for frustration that half the time is not even felt as strongly as it is written. Yeah, there's truth to it all, but that's not all the truth. It is a great country in many respects and there's a lot of great things you could learn and see.

Don't listen to the complainers too much. Not on this thread, but on plenty of others I have been a complainer, and it really is excess stress. (Which you will have from time to time wherever you go). I know so many kind thoughtful ppl here.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Qamar,

I agree with Lowly. The people who don't have complaints are not writing here! They are happily living their lives...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

SunnyMorning, you are a bit wide of the mark about union membership. Berlitz and Nova had/have large unions and their instructors are often members. None of them are employed full-time the way their Japanese co-workers are. Trainees would not be able to join unions, but there is no necessity to be employed on a full "shaiin" basis for union membership, certainly not nanbu anyway. I cannot join one because I am a manager in my company, but other one-year contracted staff I work with are in unions, no problem. But unions are not the answer for the exploited. All the unions really want to do is make sure non-Japanese employees are on shakai-hoken. There's no interest in exploitation because the main victims of exploitation in the workplace are Japanese. Labor Standards states that no one can be forced to work more than one hour of overtime per day and stipulates one paid day off per week as a legal minimum. Neither the laws nor the unions are able to enforce Labor Standard Law, which is quite frankly pathetic. Men like Kato should be in prisons, not left free to make fortunes out of exploiting foreigner workers.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Saxon Salute,

Thanks, I didn't know about that situation. I have no experience with Eikaiwa, and was speaking from experience in several companies. But I guess there are more variations out there than I had known.

Yes, I agree that unions are not the answer. In some cases they create problems. A friend (Japanese) in a union says that it is the union that sets how many hours of overtime they can do. (Not the one hour per day like you have, though.) This restriction does not allow them to meet their deadlines. So, they all have to punch their timecards at 10 pm, then continue working. If there had been no union, they could have gotten paid for all of the overtime they do past 10 pm.

Why doesn't the union know about this? All the members are taking part in it. But the manager gets so much guff from the union leader for violations of this "rule" that he strictly enforces that they stay within the union limits for paid overtime. It seems he gets no guff for making them work after they have punched their time cards. Huh?

Probably this kind of nonsense is going on all over the place. They really aren't unions as we think of them in the West.

Maybe more foreign union member activity can get things moving in a more realistic direction.

"All the unions really want to do is make sure non-Japanese employees are on shakai-hoken."

I haven't seen that. But then again, I haven't been in places where there were more than 1 or 2 non-Japanese employees.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Imagine being promised another year of work at a company and then coming back to work after a holiday and finding the contract to be just a figment of one's imagination. With an apartment,social life and all,suddenly there are just a few weeks to get a new work visa.

Never trust oral promises here-get the offer in writing !!!!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Dying to work.

Today's global wage slavery rewards the silent with suffering and the moral with starvation.

Participation by employer and employee in exploitation is the life blood of “black corporations”.

Either government seizes the business owner operators and installs on-site supervisors to comply with legal standards or the workers must abandon the employer until the police arrive.

Both solutions are ruthless and so is the greed of the “black corporations”.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

652 to 850 yen an hour

Minimum wage in Japan is way to low

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I've actually been noticing a lot of Bengali and/or Indian "trainees" (read:cheap labour) in my area in construction sites lately. They no doubt work like trojans. I just hope for these guys sake they don't have ex-yakuza scum like Kato as their boss - though it wouldn't surprise me.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I do not know of any Japanese having signed more than a one year contract at a time.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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