MMN statement following our multi-stakeholder workshop to discuss strategies for fairer labour migration to Japan from Cambodia and Vietnam
10 December 2021
As Japan considers granting more migrant workers a pathway to permanent residence, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) convened a workshop attended by more than 90 representatives from key migration stakeholders, including officials from the governments of Japan, Cambodia and Vietnam; intergovernmental organizations; migration advocates; recruitment agencies; employers; and academic experts, on 24 November 2021. The workshop provided an opportunity for diverse voices in Japan and the two important countries of origin, Cambodia and Vietnam, to share their perspectives and jointly develop strategies on some of the pressing issues facing migrant workers under Japan’s Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) and its newly expanded Specified Skilled Workers (SSW) scheme. In particular, participants sought solutions to ongoing problems surrounding the steep recruitment fees paid by migrants to work in Japan and obstacles relating to information dissemination on matters such as healthcare, an urgent issue given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Introducing the event, Ms. Jacqueline Pollock, former Chairperson of MMN’s Steering Committee highlighted the need for collaborative thinking among stakeholders and that the workshop, held online amid the ongoing pandemic, provided “an opportune moment to reflect on what we have learned, what we have not learned, and what we should have learned from this period”. She said that “the workshop will provide action points for ways forward…, as to have a migration system that does not put people at risk, there needs to be respect for the interdependency of migrants, their countries or origins, and the countries of destination.”
In the presentations that followed, Mr. Mikio Hayashi, First Secretary at the Embassy of Japan in Vietnam noted that “the high cost of migrating to Japan often led circumstances that saw migrant trainees run away from their work programs. Pressure to service loans taken to pay steep migration costs lure trainees away. Thus, in order to reduce the high migration cost to Japan, the Embassy of Japan in Vietnam has taken various measures including establishing a platform which allows prospective migrants to access information without brokers’ involvement, disseminating correct information on work and life in Japan and collecting information on unethical recruitment agencies.”
Commenting on the role companies can play in improving the conditions for migrant workers, Mr. Youzou Nakao, from the Ajinomoto Corporation’s Sustainability Development Department, stated that while major Japanese companies have agreed in principle that migrant workers should not bear recruitment costs and related fees, as stated in the Tokyo Declaration on Responsible Recruitment of Foreign Workers 2020, he pointed to a need for greater transparency on recruitment costs in countries of origin. He has also confirmed that a multistakeholder platform has now been established, as many companies share the view that the rights of foreign workers need protection and their working and living conditions improved, so that “Japan can be chosen as a preferred destination country” by migrant workers in the future.
Ms. Sooyeon Choi from Solidarity with Migrants in Japan, a non-governmental organisation advocating for the rights and dignity of migrants and people with multicultural backgrounds living in Japan, presented on another thematic focus of the workshop, migrants’ access to information on health matters, including reproductive rights. Concerning the difficulties faced by migrant women who become pregnant, she said that despite the fact migrant women are protected by law against dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy, “there is a fear of disclosing pregnancy because some TITP and SSW contracts prohibit pregnancy, which forces them to resign from their job. They also face problems accessing information on how to give birth and raise children in Japan and accessing necessary social services, along with issues relating to debts incurred during the recruitment process”.
Concurrent sessions focusing on Cambodia and Vietnam as countries of origin followed, in which representatives of respective countries’ governments, recruitment agencies, civil society organsiations and ILO presented their policies, practices and challenges in improving the situation.
Mr. Bunhak An, Chairperson of the Manpower Association of Cambodia, an association of private recruitment agencies in Cambodia, stated: “If we do not have to spend the unnecessary cost, the fee goes down to the level of the Philippines. My understanding is, when I look into Japanese law and regulations, zero-recruitment fee would be possible… If we receive USD 3,000 for one Cambodian worker, it is enough for recruitment agencies to cover operation costs without charging workers.”
Mr. Sokchar Mom, the Executive Director of the NGO, the Legal Support for Children and Women recommended that the Cambodian government “regulate the cost structure for Japan through consultation processes between trade unions, migrant workers, NGOs, and government agencies.”
In response to the question of how to improve transparency in relation to migration costs, Mr. Le Long Son, Vice Chairperson of the Vietnamese Association for Manpower Supply, an association of recruitment agencies, stated: “Prospective migrants must have an access to information on laws and policies concerning employment in Japan, and they should be able to directly contact recruitment agencies without relying on brokers.”
Ms Jane Hodge, from the International Labour Organization in Vietnam, pointed out that there is presently no itemised list of migration costs that exists and that a lot of work needs to be done throughout the supply chain to make sure migrant workers are not exploited.
The Workshop concluded with a lively synthesis exploring practical ways of making the deployment of workers in Japan a fairer process for migrants. Strategies discussed included:
- Minimising recruitment costs by bringing prospective migrant workers and potential employers closer together;
- Improving information dissemination on matters of reproductive health in Japan given the high proportion of female migrant workers; and
- Putting more effort into community-based information dissemination to increase trust in government policies aimed at protecting migrant workers.
ABOUT THE MEKONG MIGRATION NETWORK
Founded in 2003, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is a sub-regional network of civil society organisations and research institutes working towards the protection and promotion of the rights of migrants and their families in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. MMN’s areas of joint action include collaborative research, advocacy, capacity building and networking. MMN members operate in both countries of origin and destination, have unique expertise in the field, and are in close contact with migrant workers at a grassroots level. For more information on MMN, please visit MMN’s webpage at: www.mekongmigration.org.
For more information about the workshop, please contact:
Ms. Reiko Harima, MMN Regional Coordinator (English and Japanese) at: email@example.com
Mr. Tuan Nguyen, MMN Project Coordinator (English and Vietnamese) at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Sokchar Mom, Executive Director, Legal Support for Children and Women, Cambodia (Khmer and English) at: email@example.com