Photo/IllutrationShinzo Tsuchiya, the head of the Scrum Union Hiroshima, talks with reporters in Kudamatsu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on Oct. 11. (Koichi Fujimaki)

KUDAMATSU, Yamaguchi Prefecture--Hitachi Ltd.’s refusal to acknowledge suspected abuse of the foreign intern trainee program has deadlocked negotiations and left dozens of Filipinos without work and possibly a legal means to stay in Japan, their union said.

The Scrum Union Hiroshima and Hitachi held collective bargaining talks here on Oct. 11 over the plight of 40 Filipinos who worked at a company factory under the government-supported technical trainee program.

They were recently dismissed by Hitachi after the government found problems with the training program at the factory in Kudamatsu.

The union has demanded that Hitachi pay the dismissed trainees wages covering two years, the time left on their three-year contracts when they received dismissal notices.

Shinzo Tsuchiya, the head of the labor union, said Hitachi’s responses in the talks were unacceptable, although he did not specify what exactly was said.

“(What Hitachi is claiming) differs markedly from our views,” Tsuchiya told reporters. “There is no fault on the trainees’ side. Hitachi should take full responsibility.”

The company insists there were no problems with the training program at the factory, called Kasado Works, Rail Systems Business Unit, Hitachi.

“We will continue to negotiate with the aim of reaching an agreement while making every effort to allow the trainees to work as they did before,” the company said in a statement.

Under the technical trainee program, the 40 Filipinos were supposed to learn on-the-job skills, such as assembling electrical devices, that they could use after returning to their home country.

The Kudamatsu factory develops and manufactures railway and Shinkansen vehicles, but some of the trainees have said they were only given instructions to do unskilled menial tasks, according to the labor union.

The Hiroshima-based union said Hitachi representatives have rejected the claims of the trainees and insisted that the company’s training program was appropriate.

The second round of negotiations will be held next week.

The labor union said if a settlement cannot be reached in those talks, it will make a decision on whether to sue Hitachi for compensation.

Since early July, the Justice Ministry and a supervisory body called the Organization for Technical Intern Training have been investigating the Kudamatsu factory on suspicion of violating the Technical Intern Training Law.

As a result, Hitachi’s second-year plan for its training program has not been approved. Without the approval, the 40 Filipinos were dismissed in batches starting in September as they lost their technical intern trainee status.

They were placed on short-term visas and will have to leave Japan when the 30-day period expires.

Hitachi officials said that as soon as its training program is approved, the company will restore the dismissed Filipinos to the workplace.

The government said it hopes Hitachi will make improvements, such as finding other workplaces that would be appropriate for the training program.

However, the company’s second-year training program, which was submitted in mid-July, was little changed from the first-year program that had come under fire.

Authorities could not approve the second-year plan in that state, according to government sources.

Hiroaki Nakanishi, Hitachi’s chairman, said at a news conference on Oct. 9, “I believe at this point that (the instructions to the trainees) were not illegal.”

Hitachi’s stance has baffled government officials.

“We do not understand what type of future Hitachi wants to create for its trainees,” a government source said. “The company does not appear to be seeking a (resolution).”

About 270 technical trainees are still working at the Hitachi factory, and the resident status of 59 of them will expire before the end of the year.

Similar problems have surfaced in the training programs at Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. In those cases, the technical trainees were also ordered to perform tasks unrelated to their skill-obtaining goals.

Both companies have taken action out of consideration for the trainees.

Some of the trainees at Mitsubishi Motors wanted to learn welding techniques, but the company does not have a welding department.

Mitsubishi Motors allowed some of those trainees to switch to other companies that could teach the skill. For other trainees who wanted to return to their home countries, Mitsubishi Motors provided wages that covered the remaining duration of their contracts.

Nissan Motor, similar to Hitachi, came under a government investigation, and its new plan for the technical training program has not been approved.

The automaker decided to have trainees whose resident status expired return temporarily to their home countries while keeping them employed.

Nissan Motor intends to ask them to return to Japan to work as soon as the training plan is approved.

“We respected the intentions of the trainees because this is not their fault,” a Nissan Motor official said. “We improved the training environment so that the trainees will be able to learn the techniques (for plastic molding) that they wanted to learn.”

The official also said the trainees were not dismissed, and the company continues paying social insurance premiums for trainees who have left Japan.

(This article was written by Hiroki Hashimoto, Hiroyuki Maegawa and Keiichiro Shimada.)