June 11, 2014 3:51 am JST

Japan to take in more foreign labor for elderly care, retail

TOKYO -- The Japanese government will seek to bring in more foreigners able to work in elderly care and retail store management, in addition to attracting workers with highly specialized skills.

    The Industrial Competitiveness Council, chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on Tuesday recommended overhauling the training program for foreigners and improving Japan's ability to take in individuals with highly specialized knowledge. These provisions will go into the growth strategy to be compiled this month.

     A private advisory panel to Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki suggested two changes: increasing the maximum period of the existing training program from three years to five or so, and expanding the scope to include such sectors as nursing care for the elderly; forestry; auto repair; inventory and personnel management in retail; and cooked-meal production. Currently, the program covers manufacturing, construction and agriculture, among other fields.

     To ensure that trainees are not forced to work under unsuitable conditions, penalties for violators will be strengthened.

     The targeted sectors tend to lack labor. For example, Tokyo home nursing care provider JICC struggles to secure enough part-timers for weekend and holiday night visits even though it pays as much as 2,800 yen ($27.06) an hour.

     Currently, based on economic partnership agreements, qualified Indonesian and Filipino citizens are allowed to work in Japan as nursing care providers. But over the past three years, only 242 individuals have passed the national exam for obtaining the qualification.

     The government will now consider opening up the program to those from countries that do not have EPAs with Japan. Individuals from such countries would be able to work by obtaining the necessary qualifications in Japan.

     Under a separate program, a new visa category will be created for employees of Japanese companies' overseas operations.

     And for individuals with highly specialized skills, such as corporate managers, engineers and researchers, the government will likely make it easier for them to bring along someone to help with household chores. The change will apply in the six national strategic special zones in Tokyo, Osaka and elsewhere. Limiting the initiative will enable the government to alleviate the social impact while working to smooth out the challenges that come with increasing foreign labor.

     The Japanese government targets a population of 100 million in five decades. Amid the prospect of the country's population shrinking by 20 million, attracting more foreign labor is seen playing an important role in meeting the needs of the country.