Photo/IllutrationAn aerial view of the Sharp Kameyama factory in Kameyama, Mie Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Labor unions are criticizing the dismissal of non-regular foreign employees as labor adjustment, pointing to the 2,900 temporary workers of Japanese ancestry at a Sharp Corp. factory in Kameyama, Mie Prefecture, who lost their jobs this year.

The employees, most from Brazil and Peru, were let go after their employers refused to renew their contracts, explaining the step was in response to decreased production of components for Apple iPhones at the factory.

The Kameyama factory layoffs came to light as the central government is aiming to have legislation to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law approved in the current Diet session so as to accept more foreign workers in Japan.

Union Mie, a local labor union that supports “nikkei-jin” (people of Japanese descent) workers, said the government should instead be making efforts to improve labor conditions to prevent large-scale layoffs such as in Kameyama from occurring.

“It is infuriating that the government is trying to bring in more foreign workers while allowing companies a free hand to summon a work force regardless of nationality and let them go as a matter of convenience,” Akai Jimbu, deputy secretary of the union, said at a news conference in Tokyo on Dec. 3.

At the news conference, Union Mie revealed a complicated employment plan involving a number of subcontractors that has been practiced at the Kameyama plant.

In 2017, about 3,000 nikkei-jin workers were hired by 10 or so fifth-tier "shitauke" subcontractors to work at the factory. These subcontractors belonged to the same company group.

Workers were hired under a short contract lasting for one to two months. As soon as the end of the contract neared, the employee was asked to submit a resignation letter.

Then, another subcontractor from the group came in and hired the employee. This revolving-door-like scheme was used apparently to avoid having to pay social insurance contributions for the workers.

Starting around February, though, production volume at the factory decreased and subcontractors shortened work hours and cut hourly wages, which forced some workers to quit.

Furthermore, subcontractors sent out a notice of “yatoidome,” a practice of an employer not renewing a temporary employee’s contract, to those who had not quit. During labor-management negotiations, subcontractors said that a total of about 2,900 workers lost their jobs during this year, according to Union Mie.

Union Mie and others filed a complant against 10 subcontractors at the labor ministry's Mie Labor Bureau on Nov. 22, alleging that these companies have dispatched workers without a license, which is required when dispatching workers.

The prefectural government, which subsidized Sharp with 90 billion yen ($79.5 million) when the company opened its first factory in 2004, has been investigating the case in collaboration with the labor ministry. According to the prefectural officials, Sharp officials reported that the company chose not to rehire 500 workers under short-term contracts in March and 250 in July.

But the number differs greatly from the one disclosed by the union.

Asked by reporters how many workers were denied contract renewals, a representative of one subcontractor said, “I cannot comment on that right now.”

Sharp has been delivering electronic parts manufactured at the Kameyama factory to companies including Apple. For some components, the company leaves the entire production line to subcontractors and lets them hire the workers as well.

According to sources familiar with the factory, the production system has been re-evaluated and operation of assembly lines has been recently downsized.

“We are trying to figure out the situation involving workers hired by subcontractors,” a Sharp spokesperson said.

(Yoichi Yonetani and Yuko Matsuura contributed to this article.)