Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Open" Minds, Closed Policies

So, thanks to David for pointing out this Japan Times article. I normally don't check up on Japan Times, but maybe it's time to start again.

Today's article of commentary is: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20060923a1.html

So, the article looks cosmetically nice. Japan is admitting their labor force is going down in numbers, and they're looking for non-domestic folks to pick up jobs that would otherwise be going empty. Things look even brighter in this quote: "The debate on whether to allow foreigners to enter the country and work here is over. The question now is how we should receive them." Japan's finally deciding to stop putting off the workforce problems that have been predicted to arise for a good few years now.

Then, if you scroll a few lines further, you'll note some rather interesting job qualification requirements. Note these jobs are not specifically white-collar positions, but all available jobs. According to the article "...foreigners who want to work in Japan, including those of Japanese descent, must have a certain degree of proficiency in the Japanese language."

Why so picky, Japan? You state there is a problem with dwindling numbers in your labor force, yet you are still picky to have fluent workers? First, this is an unfair bar. Foreign-born Japanese arguably have a better chance to grasp the language, thanks to Japanese-speaking relatives living in either the U.S. or Japan. Non-Japanese foreigners are immediately given a hurdle compared to foreign-born Japanese (and domestic Japanese, if their numbers rise later) since they're probably fresh off the plane in Japan, with little to no Japanese language experience. Language-wise, it's a fact most high schools (and some colleges) lack a Japanese program. Even more importantly, non-Japanese foreigners are instantly branded as gaijin ("outside people"), and are still subconsciously treated as such.

Second, why should proficiency be considered when hiring factory workers and the like? Yes, they need to understand orders for both efficiency and liability reasons, but with all that Engrish around the country and your now-open-arms approach to foreign workers, perhaps it's time to adapt businesses to the workers (like we do with Spanish speakers)?

Lastly, there's a 3% maximum percentage of foreigners allowable in the workplace. That's possibly the ultimate embodiment of job discrimination. So some qualified person comes looking for a job, but since he'd make up 3.00000000000001%, you turn him away for- you guessed it- a domestic Japanese person!

This all sounds like a facade in light of some of the discriminatory events going on in Japan since foreigners became a national issue. It sounds less like loosening of job restrictions and more of looking worldly and accepting. Key word: "looking". Everyone knows you want a spot on the UN's Human Rights Council, but putting convenient "caps" does not mean you're the human rights freedom fighters quite yet.

Fair up the job market a bit- equal opportunities for domestic and foreign folks alike, no language requirement for basic physical labor jobs, and no percentage cap for foreign workers would be a start.

Then, let's deal with the other discrimination problems.

[Update: Turns out on May 9, 2006 the United Nations allowed Japan on a new Human Rights Council crafted after the old committee was abolished. My bad.]

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