Japanese gov't investigating mistreatment of pregnant foreign trainees

The Japanese government is conducting a survey to determine whether foreign technical trainees have been forced by employers or intermediary groups to leave the country because they fell pregnant or gave birth.
The Immigration Services Agency of Japan and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare are working together on what appears to be the first survey of its kind, amid increased attention over a growing number of cases of harassment and abuse of trainees.
The survey aims to obtain responses from around 490 people on the government-sponsored technical internship program, asking respondents if they know of cases where women have been sent to their home country after becoming pregnant or having a child.
There have been cases of people being forced to sign documents agreeing to leave if they become pregnant, and of individuals abandoning newborn children for fear of dismissal and loss of working rights in Japan.
Japan introduced the program in 1993, with trainees allowed to work for up to five years at companies with the view of using skills learned in Japan to contribute to their home countries' economies. The scheme has been criticized as providing cover for companies to import cheap labor from across Asia.
At the end of 2021, some 276,000 people were engaged in the program, with the highest proportions from Vietnam, China and Indonesia.
Japan's law on equal opportunity employment for men and women, which also applies to the trainees, prohibits disadvantageous treatment on the basis of an individual giving birth or becoming pregnant.
Based on the survey's results, the central government intends to improve its messaging on the issue.
According to data from the labor ministry, 637 trainees were forced to leave their jobs over pregnancy-related issues between November 2017 and December 2020. The statistics, however, are based only on those known from reports by oversight groups and other sources.
The government-run Organization for Technical Intern Training that oversees the program is thus handing out the survey to the trainees from August to October this year during regular inspections of their employers.
Trainees subject to the survey would be from seven countries -- Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
Its questions include whether the technical interns have signed documents pledging to resign if they become pregnant, and if they know of any trainees who have been dismissed for that reason.
It also asks if they are aware they can take leave when pregnant and continue working after giving birth, and that they are eligible for a lump sum payment.
Various issues with the program have emerged since it was launched. Some trainees have incurred large debts in the process of entering Japan, while others were required to work an illegal number of hours and some were not paid their owed wages.
Amid increasing attention on abuses in the technical intern system, Yoshihisa Furukawa, the previous justice minister, said in July the government will launch a full-scale review of the program, separate to the survey.

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