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