Vulnerable foreign workers in Mie suffer from business downturn

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Due to the spread of COVID-19, around 100 workers who were sent to a Sharp Corp. factory. in Taki Town, Mie Prefecture, lost their jobs earlier this month. About 80% of them were Filipino nationals.

The number of foreign workers in Japan who have been made redundant or put on leave is increasing. These workers tend to be in a weaker position and their families are often affected as well.

“My daughter and my son lost their jobs at the same time, and we don’t know what to do next,” said Raquel Garcia, 45, who worked at the Mie factory for nine years. “I wanted to transfer money to my children in the Philippines,” she added, discouraged.

As a third generation Japanese-Filipino, Garcia arrived in Japan with her younger brother in 2003, leaving her husband and five children in the Philippines. She first worked on truck assembly lines at a factory in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, then was sent to the Mie factory in 2012 to work for a Sharp subcontractor.

Garcia still has two daughters in high school in the Philippines. The other three of her five children are now in Japan, and two of them also worked at the Mie factory. Garcia was fired once in 2015 due to deteriorating business conditions, but was able to return to work the following year after winning a lawsuit seeking her reinstatement by the company.

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Nonetheless, the number of days she could work had decreased since 2018 as Sharp had increased its offshore operations. At times during the past year she only worked twice a week.

The subcontractor she works for, told her in mid-October that she would be laid off again in mid-November, apparently due to production cuts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Municipal and prefectural authorities have started providing social benefits to workers in need.

“The situation changed everything at once and I’m really sad. At my age, it’s very difficult to find a new job, ”Garcia said. She thinks the situation is particularly difficult for her because she does not have a driver’s license that would allow her to drive to work and has difficulty reading and writing in Japanese.

“Workplaces with bus services are limited and it is also difficult to find a job in the Philippines,” she said pessimistically. She hopes the government will put in place support for those in her position so that she can get a loan to attend driving school.

Garcia is one of some 60 Filipino members of Sharp Pinoy Unity (SPU) who will be fired. On November 11, around 30 members gathered to discuss how to apply for a waiver of payment for their national health insurance premiums and to check the timeline for getting their EI benefits. In the session, they also looked at how to write hiragana letters.

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“Some of the workers were made redundant with their families, so the impact on their lives is significant,” said Akai Jinbu, general secretary of Union Mie, the parent organization of SPU.

The latest measures are not the first time Sharp has attempted to reduce the number of workers at its factories. Two years ago, more than 3,000 workers, including Brazilians who worked for one of Sharp’s contractors, quit their jobs or were released from service at a factory in Kameyama town. According to Union Mie, many of them were single and had only been working for a few years.

This time, however, staff who had been employed for 10 years or more at Mie’s factory and who also had family members on the payroll were targeted, the union said.

“The impact it will have on each worker is greater this time,” Jinbu said, noting that the company uses foreign workers who have worked for the company for years to adjust employment levels when business conditions are difficult.

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What is happening at the Sharp factory is just the tip of the iceberg. About 18,000 foreign nationals were looking for work in June, up 89% from the same month last year, according to data collected from the country’s public employment offices and compiled by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Welfare.

“It appears that the state of emergency in April and May prevented people from reaching out to public employment services, which led to a sharp increase in June,” a ministry official said. health.

“We want to pay attention to foreign workers, especially because December is the time when layoffs are most likely to occur,” the official said, noting that many foreign workers are employed on an irregular basis, including temporary workers and part-time workers.

Due to the situation, the ministry has changed the schedule of its month-long campaign to educate people about the problems faced by foreign workers, which usually takes place from June to November.

This section presents topics and issues of the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on November 12.

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