Verité has launched a helpline for Filipino workers facing forced labor risks as guest workers in Japan. Generously funded by The Walt Disney Company, My Labor Matters is a communication platform that links migrating and returning workers with each other and with a network of supporting NGOs and other resources in Japan and the Philippines, including hotline, on-line training, legal resources and official information and trends. Workers can learn about risks and resources available to them through video and social media, including ‘Aimee’s Story’ which illustrates the risky journey that many migrants experience.
Long considered a low-risk country for labor problems, Japan has been the subject of media reports on the abuses, include forced labor, faced by foreign workers placed through its Technical Intern Training Program (TITP). Whereas the TITP portrays itself as a means for the foreign guest workers to gain skills, and good pay, as ‘trainees,’ it is common for migrants from China (the vast majority), Vietnam and the Philippines, to be placed in low skill jobs with longer hours and less pay than promised.
Verité’s own field research for the My Labor Matters Project found widespread charging of illegal fees for migrants in sending countries; migrants not being placed in jobs other than those they were recruited to do; lower wages and excessive hours; restricted freedom of movement; withholding of passport and bankbooks; threats of repatriation; debt bondage and no access to grievance.
The experiences of the Chinese workers our team met in Gifu and Aichi Prefectures in Japan were in some cases more severe.
The average recruitment fee paid in China was $8,600, twice that allowed by Chinese law and the equivalent of eight months of wages. Workers told our interviewers they signed an IOU with their recruiter pledging their labor as collateral, as well as a blank contract. Deductions for housing and other expenses were never mentioned. Their wages were 30% lower than promised (lower than the local minimum wage) with forced savings held by their Japanese placement agents. According to interviews, surveys and documents filed with a local union, work hours ranged between 300 and 350 per month with no days off. Passports were confiscated and cell phones and computers forbidden, as well as travel to a Chinese supermarket. The migrants were abused verbally and some forced to work while sick. All workers interviewed reported that they were under the constant, explicit threat of being terminated and deported for complaining or not working hard, which would deny them the ability to pay the debt they incurred to get their jobs.
On March 22, 2016 in Tokyo Verité is co-delivering one of a series of free workshops for Japanese companies on good practice in managing such risks.
For more information, please contact Lydia Long.