Japan's Justice Ministry has found 759 cases of foreign technical interns fleeing their work due to being mistreated by their employers while on a state-backed program, according to a survey released Friday.
In this Nov. 28, 2018, file photo, lawyer Shoichi Ibusuki, center, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, on the problems in Japan's technical intern program, with Eng Pisey, right, Cambodian technical trainee and Huang Shihu, left, Chinese technical trainee in Tokyo. (File photo: AP/Eugene Hoshiko)
The survey of 5,218 foreign trainees on the state-sponsored technical internship program who absconded from work, also revealed that in the six years from 2012, 171 interns had died from accidents and suicide.
The technical intern training program, supervised by the Justice Ministry, was introduced in 1993 to purportedly help developing countries increase their base of skilled workers.
The program, however, following numerous cases of trainees working outside their specific remits and being paid illegally low wages, has been called into question for its easy exploitation by firms who merely use the foreign trainees as cheap workers amid Japan's current labor crunch.
The actual number of foreign trainees who have gone missing from work is far higher than the 5,218 people surveyed by the Justice Ministry, as this number relates only to those who have been interviewed by immigration officers after being tracked down by local authorities between January 2017 and September 2018.
In 2018 alone, 9,052 foreign trainees were reported missing, with the figure believed by government officials to be on the rise.
The survey showed that there were 328,360 foreign trainees here on the state-backed internship program as of late December 2018.
Of the 4,280 employers of the foreign trainees who were probed, 383 of them were unreachable. Some of them, according to the survey, refused to cooperate with government officials on the issue.
Along with Japan's Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita, who said Friday the government will "make efforts to operate the internship program appropriately," the ministry has admitted its failure to effectively respond to the suffering of the trainees.
It said it would enhance its support and protection of the oversees trainees and pledged to better supervise their employers.
The damning statistics pertaining to the mistreatment of foreign interns here come as Japan will start accepting more blue-collar workers from April this year.
This follows the successful passage of new legislation aimed at solidifying Japan's labor force that is steadily being hollowed out by a rapidly aging and shrinking population.
The new visa system in Japan, in addition, has been set up to attract more blue-collar workers to work in sectors here such as construction, farming and nursing care, to help deal with Japan's demographic crisis and the increasingly negative impact it is having on the economy.