Economy struggles to come to terms with shortfall of foreign workers


Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, foreign workers in manufacturing, service and other sectors have been unable to enter Japan. This, reports Nikkan Gendai (June 4) has been causing various problems in the domestic economy. 

From June, at some condominium apartments in the greater Tokyo area, newspaper delivery agents have been restricted from delivering newspapers to the doors of residents, and instead have been told to use the mailboxes at the first-floor entrances. The justification for this rule is supposedly that "some residents have complained about entry of delivery agents into the building."

Behind the decision was supposedly that agents who came to collect payments in arrears by people who had cancelled their subscriptions, but actually the complaints had originated from non-subscribers in the building who saw the newspaper agents as interlopers who might possibly spread the coronavirus.  

According to the Japan Newspaper Publishers' Association, the number of delivery personnel had fallen from 464,827 in 2001 to 271,878 in 2019. The drop was particularly severe among part-time workers age 18 and below, which shrank from around 40,000 to just 939 over the same period. 

Much of this shortfall has been made up by students from Asian countries. 

Hidekazu Matsuda, president of GOWELL, a Tokyo-based agency specializing in placing foreigners as temporary workers, tells Nikkan Gendai that at present Japan's diplomatic offices abroad have halted the issue of certificates for status of residence, and as a result, he says, the number of people who had been expected to enter Japan this year as technical trainees fell far short of the 400,000 who had been expected. They would have taken jobs at factories or work related to agriculture and food production -- not to mention at convenience stores and other retailing establishments. 

"Even with the loosening of restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic," says Matsuda, "I suppose they won't be returning to work at jobs such as in the 24-hour service sector." 

From April onwards some 2,000 convenience stores operated by Japan's "big three" chains -- 7-Eleven, Lawson and FamilyMart -- halted round-the-clock operations. Their sales in April reportedly fell by 10.6%, and customer traffic was down by 18.4%. Lawson employs about 13,000 foreigners at its stores and Family Mart around 10,000. 

According to immigration figures, a total of approximately 400,000 foreigners departed Japan in the months of February and March. Many were moved to return to their home countries due to the pandemic. 

Presently Japan is estimated to have some 1.65 million foreign workers. Broken down by business sector, the largest, 384,000 workers, came here as technical trainees. In descending order this is followed by workers in the food and beverage production sector and agriculture. The largest number is from China, followed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil and Nepal. 

"The Nikkei newspaper has reported on severe shortages of foreign workers who have assisted farm households, or who process the tuna catch," Hayato Nakamori, a journalist, is quoted as saying. "It's also possible that 'one-coin' (i.e., 500-yen) box lunches and inexpensive semi-prepared fresh vegetables and so on will vanish from stores. We shouldn't let ourselves forget that it is these foreign trainees, working for low wages on late-night shifts, who have been producing these one-coin box lunches."  

Matsuda added that "When the convenience stores cut their hours, the first workers to be laid off were foreigners. Foreign students are also limited to 28 hours per week. After graduation they had hopes to find employment at Japanese companies here, but more have been going back to their home countries. This is a serious loss for Japan." 

Another opportunity is to work at care facilities, which at the start of 2020 had a shortfall of 200,000 positions, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. During the coming decade many other jobs in construction, agriculture and transport sectors will face severe shortages. A variety of goods and services that people have taken for granted up to now are likely to come to a halt. What's more, the impact on supply and demand will almost certainly mean higher prices for a variety of existing food products and other consumer goods. Actually some price increases have already gone into effect from the beginning of April.

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

Japan has an entire group of teenagers that are not permitted to work due to school rules. Form the age of 13 was delivering newspapers, doing odd jobs for elderly in my neighborhood, age 16 to 18 worked at a gas station pumping gas and working on cars, summer job building houses and doing landscaping. Growing up in the states, I didn't know anyone of my friends that didn't have some kind of job.

Let the kids work some of these jobs. It builds character and a sense of responsibility.

18 ( +18 / -0 )

Yeah, one of the high schools my kid is thinking about going to has a rule that they can't have a part-time job. I told her to either ignore the rule or pick another school to go to if she wants to make extra money. Don't need schools interfering with personal/family affairs.

I also had my first job delivering papers at 13 and a bunch of part-time jobs after that. Working is a great way to teach youngsters the value of money, skills, fortitude, and responsibility.

14 ( +14 / -0 )

Most of the people I have known had part-time jobs as teenagers, here in the states. It was good experience, IMO. I would caution that one needs to strike a healthy balance between work and school. Part of working at that age is to learn how to balance work with other activities.

Dad came from a country with socialist was free. But for many professions one had to work for a while, then go to school for a while, to make sure that one has chosen a career that one likes, whether it is in engineering, medicine, or whatever.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Maybe the govt should allow them to return to Japan from abroad when they travel...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Unless people are very desperate I doubt many will return to Japan during the coronavirus situation where you may be stuck depending on the entry restrictions and virus outbreak. The workaholics of the world must be hating this virus.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"When the convenience stores cut their hours, the first workers to be laid off were foreigners."

If your policy is based on inequality and treating the most vulnerable (yet most cost-effective) segment of your workforce as expendable, then sorry, I don't feel sorry for you. Not only are you xenophobic, but you're pathetic at running a business. You deserve to go out of business.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

treating the most vulnerable (yet most cost-effective) segment of your workforce as expendable,

Sorry, Jeff, could you explain why foreign workers are more cost effective?

They receive the same rates of pay and allowances as Japanese employees.


-4 ( +2 / -6 )

@since1981, wholeheartedly agree. My story mirrors yours in many ways: A latchkey kid at a very young age, expected to understand the rules of society and protect himself (in the 1970s South Bronx no less!) Summer job at fourteen, working at a fast-food joint at seventeen. Out the door at eighteen. Kids are so coddled here. They don't do many (any?) chores and have no real responsibilities. Total opposite of my upbringing. No wonder they mostly can't fend for themselves until well into their twenties.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

garymalmgren wrote on June 7 08:20 pm JST

> Sorry, Jeff, could you explain why foreign workers are more cost effective?

They receive the same rates of pay and allowances as Japanese employees.

It's not the same everywhere. It really depends.

Also, most foreigners are not in direct contract under the place they work, thus not receiving the annual bonus and other compensations. Most of them work for a recruitment/employment agency who then "redirects" them to their place of work.

And about the article, I can't really see a shortage of foreign workers when a lot of them have just lost their jobs because of coronavirus and the impact it caused in some industries. If you can't have foreigners entering the country, use the unemployed ones who are already in Japan...

3 ( +3 / -0 )


> They receive the same rates of pay and allowances as Japanese employees.

Convenience store operators have had two ways of getting enough staff in recent conditions: either offer higher pay or continue to pay rock-bottom wages by hiring foreigners. This option is only possible thanks to the availability and willingness of the foreigners, since the combinis would suffer a massive labor shortfall if they relied only on the locals at the wages currently offered, seriously harming their business. Therefore foreign workers have become an extremely cost-effective element of their HR strategy.

As for foreigners getting paid as much, no they often don't. If we take the "Foreign Technical Trainee Program," for example, perhaps the biggest conduit for Japanese employers to secure workers from abroad, the majority of the hundreds of thousands of workers now here is believed to receive LESS than the minimum wage. (The routine and longstanding abuses of that large and influential program are well documented.)

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Japan's slave labor at a standstill. I see.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Matsuda added that "When the convenience stores cut their hours, the first workers to be laid off were foreigners.

Not only convenience stores.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Foreign workers are crucial to most modern economies. Not just Japan, but the US, Germany, the UK, and France are all heavily dependent on foreign workers. One of the things so very wrong about Trump's immigration policies is that they threaten to cripple the American economy. From hospital workers, doctors, mechanics, electrical technicians, and just about every other field involving skilled workers, America is very dependent on immigrants, since it has refused to build the infrastructure to train its own citizens for the jobs that need to be filled.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites