Photo/IllutrationJustice Minister Takashi Yamashita speaks at a Lower House Budget Committee session on Nov. 2 as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, foreground right, listens. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Recent revelations have highlighted serious flaws and lapses in the way the government has prepared its policy initiative to allow more foreign nationals to work in Japan.

These problems have called into question the credibility of what the government has said about the bill to revise the immigration control law.

For one, data concerning the existing Technical Intern Training Program submitted to the Diet by the Justice Ministry has been found to be riddled with inaccurate or misleading information.

Last year alone, more than 7,000 foreign technical intern trainees fled their designated workplaces, raising questions about the program.

The ministry interviewed nearly 2,900 foreign trainees who disappeared from their workplaces in 2017 and were later detained prior to deportation. The findings of the interviews the ministry first presented to the Diet showed that some 87 percent of them fled in pursuit of higher wages.

But the actual percentage was about 67 percent. In addition, this figure represents the total of the trainees who, as reasons for their flight, cited one of the following three answer categories--“low wages,” “lower pay than the amount stipulated in their work contract,” and “lower pay than the minimum wage.”

As a result, the data spread the impression that these trainees disappeared from their workplaces for selfish reasons while covering up the harsh working conditions for them, which often involve violations of the labor law and regulations or work contracts.

At a Lower House plenary session, Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita gave responses based on inaccurate or misleading information. He has yet to retract these remarks.

Some other figures concerning the reasons for disappearance have also been corrected. The percentage of the interviewed trainees who cited “strict guidance” has been revised from 5.4 percent to 12.6 percent. The ministry has also revised the figure of trainees who said they had been physically abused at the workplace from 3 percent to 4.9 percent.

The sloppiness with which the ministry handled this important data is simply appalling.

The answer category of “other reasons” was chosen by 15.3 percent of the interviewed trainees. Many of them cited discontent with the workplace environment and working conditions as well as workplace relationship problems.

The bill would allow technical trainees now in Japan to switch over to the new “specific skills” visa status to be created with the revision to the law. The government expects that trainees who change their status will account for about half of the foreign nationals working in Japan under the new system.

If so, the government needs to redo the process of pursuing this policy initiative by starting with efforts to obtain an accurate understanding of the grim realities of the trainee program, which would serve as a foundation for the new system.

Another blow to the legitimacy of the proposal has come from an inconsistency between the government’s characterization of the bill and the ruling coalition’s version.

In a TV program aired on Nov. 18 by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), Norihisa Tamura, deputy chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council, said the “specific skills” visa status is aimed at replacing the trainee programs with a formal and clearly defined employment program to allow foreign nationals to work in Japan.

But this is news to us. The government has repeatedly said that the two systems are separate and different, promising to keep the trainee program alive even after the new visa system is introduced.

But the lawmaker in a key post concerning the ruling party’s policy development has openly contradicted this explanation.

This suggests that the government and the ruling party do not have a shared understanding of even the basic objective of the bill.

During this year’s regular Diet session, the government’s data concerning the work style reform initiative was found to contain inaccuracies, causing confusion at the Diet.

As for the political scandal involving school operator Moritomo Gakuen, official documents that had been falsified to suit the government’s purposes were submitted to the Diet.

All these episodes point to the government’s contempt for the Diet.

The government is strictly responsible to ensure that sufficient time will be spent on deliberations on the proposed revision to the immigration control law and offer accurate and detailed explanations about the bill.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 20