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21 Sep 2023

Japan: Gov. urged to eradicate 'slave labour structures' of foreign technical trainee programme

Women Working in Factory

Japan's controversial 30-year-old trainee program, foreign technical trainee programme, was initially aimed to transfer knowledge and skills to developing countries. However, it has been used as a cover for companies seeking to import cheap labor from abroad as the working-age population in Japan continues to shrink.

The Labour Inspection Office in Japan found almost 70% of the businesses that had hired workers under this programme were in violation of labour laws. Migrant workers are especially vulnerable to exploitation as they often do not speak the language and lack community support or access to legal advice, and their situation has become even more precarious during this pandemic.

In April 2023, a government panel proposed scrapping the trainee program and creating a new system to address alleged unpaid wages and other human rights violations. The panel called for the new system to clearly state that it is intended to "secure" human resources, unlike the existing program, which says its purpose is to transfer knowledge and skills to developing countries.

As of the end of 2022, there were around 325,000 foreign trainees in Japan.