Photo/IllutrationJaganath Koirala, left, who was expected to head a labor union for Bhutanese, at a news conference in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, on Aug. 31. (Suguru Takizawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion

MATSUYAMA--A labor union for Bhutanese in Japan was formed on Sept. 1 to help them earn a more stable living and address problems such as overwork and students exceeding a weekly cap on work hours.

The union was formed by about 10 individuals, including Bhutanese who are working at companies in Ehime Prefecture and elsewhere.

They plan to recruit more Bhutanese to the new union, the International Labor Union of Bhutan, via social networking sites and offer a program to help compatriots land jobs in Japan, it was announced at a news conference here on Aug. 31.

“There are people who cannot speak up because they have problems,” said Jaganath Koirala, a 28-year-old worker for an agricultural corporation in the prefecture. “I would like to protect students and workers in vulnerable positions.”

He said the union will have collective bargaining power among the members’ employers. Koirala became the president of the union on Sept. 1.

The Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, which is located near the Himalayas in South Asia, had a population of about 754,000 in 2018, according to the Foreign Ministry. Known as the "world's happiest country," Bhutan is approximately the size of Kyushu.

As of December, 824 Bhutanese were staying in Japan, Justice Ministry data showed. Of these, 703 were students.

Most Bhutanese students are shouldering a large debt that they incurred to cover their school tuition and fees as well as travel expenses to Japan, according to a group assisting them.

They often must juggle part-time jobs to repay their debts. As a result, they end up developing health problems due to overwork or exceeding a weekly cap of 28 hours imposed on foreign students.

Many Bhutanese students are tempted to borrow large sums as agencies in Bhutan lure individuals to study and work in Japan, saying they can make a large amount of money in Japan.

Some students borrow as much as about 1.2 million yen ($11,320) from local financial institutions. It is an enormous sum, given that the starting salary of a national public employee averages about 30,000 yen a month.

The union plans to join the Japanese Association of Metal, Machinery and Manufacturing Workers (JAM), an umbrella organization comprising small and midsize labor organizations.

JAM is expected to provide assistance when the union of Bhutanese negotiate with employers in collective bargaining.

JAM is also a member of Rengo (the Japanese Trade Union Confederation), the nation’s largest labor organization.

“We will give them our full support,” said Rikio Kozu, president of Rengo, who attended the news conference on Aug. 31.