Photo/IllutrationMitsubishi Motors Corp.'s Okazaki plant in Aichi Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Two leading companies, Panasonic Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., have had their plans for technical intern training programs revoked due to legal violations.

The measure announced Jan. 25 by the Justice Ministry and labor ministry means that Panasonic and Mitsubishi Motors will not be able to hire foreign technical trainees for the next five years, nor will they likely be allowed to hire foreign workers granted a new visa status from April.

The government's message appears to be that no labor law violations are allowed as hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals are expected to work in Japan under the new visa status.

While Mitsubishi Motors was found to have directly violated the Technical Intern Training Law by having foreign technical trainees handle tasks not included in the training program plan, Panasonic was punished because it was found to have violated the Labor Standards Law involving a Japanese employee.

The Panasonic case shows that companies must abide by all provisions in labor laws if they want to hire foreign technical trainees.

The program has many critics, who say the government is simply intent on importing cheap labor to meet a worker shortage.

There have been past instances of companies having intern training program plans revoked, but none has involved globally known corporations, as in the latest case.

The Technical Intern Training Law was enacted in 2017 to protect the working environment for foreign technical trainees.

Under this, Mitsubishi Motors was found to have exploited foreign technical trainees by making them engage in tasks not included in the intern training program plan submitted to the government.

According to Justice Ministry officials, 28 technical trainees from the Philippines were hired at Mitsubishi Motors' Okazaki plant in Aichi Prefecture to learn welding skills. However, those trainees were made to assemble car parts, a task not included in the training plan.

The ministry revoked the training plans for 27 of those workers and ordered Mitsubishi Motors to allow the remaining worker to engage in work laid out in the plan. Twenty-four of the 27 workers have already returned home. The three others have moved to other companies.

According to Justice Ministry officials, similar abuse of the technical trainee program had continued from 2008 when Mitsubishi Motors first began hiring foreign workers. The practice continued until government inspectors checked the Okazaki plant last May.

A Justice Ministry official involved in the investigation said, "There was no work at that plant that could have been done by the technical trainees."

A Mitsubishi Motors official explained, "We did not have a sufficient understanding of what the program entailed."

The ministry official said it was apparent that those on the plant floor were not thoroughly briefed about the way the intern program worked and what rules to follow.

The foreign technical trainees were introduced to Mitsubishi Motors through Friend Nippon, a Hiroshima-based organization that has referred foreign technical trainees to a number of companies around Japan. Justice Ministry officials plan to look into the role played by Friend Nippon in the latest case.

In the Panasonic case, no foreign technical trainees were involved. Rather the company was fined 300,000 yen ($2,700) in spring 2018 for violating the Labor Standards Law in relation to a male employee in his 40s at a plant in Tonami, Toyama Prefecture, who died from overwork. Three employees at the plant, including the deceased, were found to have worked overtime hours well outside what is legally acceptable.

The Technical Intern Training Law has a provision banning any company found to have violated labor laws from hiring foreign technical trainees.

A total of 82 foreign technical trainees, from China and Malaysia, had been working at Panasonic plants, but they have returned home after their training plans were revoked.

The two other companies that had their technical intern training programs revoked on Jan. 25 were Aisin Sinwa Co., a car parts manufacturer based in Toyama Prefecture, and Daibari Co., a construction company based in Ibaraki Prefecture.

(This article was compiled from reports by Naoki Urano, Satoshi Kimura and Yoichi Yonetani.)