Photo/IllutrationFired Filipino trainees pose with union members in Kudamatsu, Yamaguchi Prefecture on Nov. 16. Two days later, they boarded a flight to the Philippines at Fukuoka Airport.(Hiroyuki Maegawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

A Filipino found one bright spot in his miserable experience of being denied promised skills, fired for no fault of his own and forced to leave Japan on Nov. 18 two years ahead of schedule.

He said at least his disappointing time here can serve as a warning to his compatriots who are thinking about joining Japan’s technical trainee program.

“When we called for improvements in our working conditions, we were fired and became victims of the trainee program,” the 24-year-old said. “But I take honor in being a victim who can help others who might come here.”

He was among 20 Filipino technical trainees who returned to their home country from Fukuoka Airport that day after being fired by Hitachi Ltd. in autumn.

As they entered the departure gate, they smiled and waved at their supporters who had helped them fight for justice. Many of the now-unemployed Filipinos face debts accumulated at home to enter the Japanese government’s technical training program.

The program is intended to provide skills that trainees can use upon their return home, but complaints have been rife about rights abuses and employers using the foreign trainees as cheap labor.

A total of 99 Filipino trainees worked at Hitachi’s Kasado Works in Kudamatsu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and they were supposed to learn such skills as “electric equipment assembling” of switchboards and control boards on trains.

But a 24-year-old said he was only given menial tasks, such as pulling wires on rail cars.

The trainee had studied electrical engineering at a university in the Philippines, and he joined the program in Japan for on-the-job training in the field.

“I haven’t acquired any skills at all,” he said.

Another former trainee, 23, said he was instructed to fit toilets and drainage pipes into railway cars.

“These were not tasks under which I could learn the skills mentioned in the contract,” he said.

In July, the Justice Ministry and the supervisory Organization for Technical Intern Training (OTIT) investigated Hitachi’s Kasado Works on suspicion of violating the Technical Intern Training Law in the first year of the three-year program.

With the investigation continuing, the authorities have not made a decision on whether to approve Hitachi’s training program for the second year.

With the future of the training program undecided, Hitachi fired the 99 trainees and had their statuses changed from technical trainees to short-term visitors.

The visas were set to expire for the 20 trainees who headed home on Nov. 18.

The fired trainees joined a labor union. In an out-of-court settlement, Hitachi agreed to pay the wages the interns would have earned had they not been dismissed.

The company has said it wants to rehire the Filipinos if its second-year training program is approved, but the one-year experience has left a bitter taste.

They said they want to work under a system where their human rights are recognized.

Hitachi had insisted there was “nothing wrong” with its training program at the factory in Kudamatsu, leading to further delays in resolving the issue.

Authorities are also considering imposing administrative penalties against Friend Nippon, a recruiting agency based in Hiroshima, over suspected violations of the trainee law.

Before coming to Japan, the trainees had to graduate from a vocational training school in the Philippines that has ties with Friend Nippon.

Many of them took out still-unrepaid loans of about 150,000 yen ($1,330) to take that course.

The trainee who found a silver lining in his ordeal also said he could not complain about the work conditions because of the contract signed with White Dove Recruitment Corp., a Philippine government-approved organization that sends trainees to Japan.

He said any complaints about the work place would violate the contract, and the complainers would have to pay for their own way home.

“We were under threat not to make complaints,” he said.

When The Asahi Shimbun asked White Dove Recruitment about the issue, it said, “The person in charge of the matter is not in the office.”

Friend Nippon, which handled the trainees sent from White Dove Recruitment, said, “We refrain from answering questions about individual cases.”

The Japanese government plans to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law to create a new “specific skills” visa in spring for foreign workers in 14 industry sectors facing labor shortages.

Opposition parties have criticized the plan as overly hasty, with insufficient studies on the impact of perhaps tens of thousands of foreign workers a year entering Japan and how to protect their human rights.

A 27-year-old Filipino said of the proposed new visa, “I am interested in it but only if I can work properly as an engineer.”

He said he worries that companies will continue to mistreat or unjustifiably fire workers who hold the new visa.

“I realize that Japan faces a shortage of workers,” a 24-year-old trainee said. “I pray that the new visa status is not a system intended to trick us.”

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