Photo/IllutrationForeign technical intern trainees eat lunch in a common room with no heating. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A Justice Ministry report that paints a grim picture of the situation facing technical intern trainees here does not get close to the heart of the matter, according to those in the know.

The report by a special project team released March 29 found that 171 foreign technical intern trainees died between 2012 and 2017.

It also noted that of the 5,218 technical intern trainees who fled their place of work between January 2017 and September 2018 and were later taken into custody, 759, or about 15 percent of the total, apparently faced abuse, received less than the minimum wage or were only paid for part of the overtime they put in, for example.

Noting that the study was based on reports filed by local immigration offices, Junpei Yamamura, a doctor who has long provided support to technical intern trainees, said, "There will be no meaning until a third-party panel conducts the investigation."

He said the report appeared intended to give the impression that while there may be a problem, it is not a particularly serious one.

Ippei Torii, an executive with a group called Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan, also pointed to the fact that the number of technical intern trainees treated unfairly was calculated through interviews with the companies that hired them.

Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer who has helped foreign trainees, said that figure was unrealistically low and added the Justice Ministry was not serious about getting to the bottom of the problem because it never bothered to question technical intern trainees who had already returned home.

Of the 171 trainees who died over the six-year period, 43 came to light for the first time because of the latest study, apparently because those cases were overlooked in the past due to clerical errors.

The report said 28 deaths were due to accidents, while 59 trainees died of illness and 17 committed suicide.

The study results were released just days ahead of a new work visa program that will kick in April 1 to allow in thousands of foreign workers in specific industrial sectors.

The latest study was made necessary after errors were found last year in a Justice Ministry study about missing technical intern trainees. Those errors were revealed as the Diet deliberated the legislation that led to the establishment of the new work visa program.

Opposition party lawmakers looked over the individual reports of 2,870 trainees who fled their workplace and found that about 70 percent were not receiving the minimum wage.

(This article was written by Naoki Urano and Ryujiro Komatsu.)