Japan nursing care industry eyes foreign workers

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) – Moves to accept foreigners as front-line workers in the nursing care industry are likely to accelerate. The Law on Proper Technical Intern Training and Protection of Technical Intern Trainees (see below) came into force on Nov. 1, putting into place a mechanism for trainees to work at nursing care facilities.

They will undergo various procedures and training before coming to Japan and are likely to start working next spring or later.

Facilities suffering from a shortage of workers are hoping they will arrive as soon as possible. However, the technical intern system continues to be criticised as a means to secure cheap labor, and there are also persistent concerns about a decline in the quality of nursing care.

Problems are rampant regarding the training system, including unpaid wages. By enforcing the new law, the government has strengthened the monitoring system for misconduct, including the creation of a new watchdog organization.

Nursing care has also been added to the list of jobs for trainees, the first person-to-person services to be covered by the program.

Kochi-kai, a social welfare corporation in Kaminokawa, Tochigi Prefecture, operates 11 businesses, including special nursing homes for the aged. It plans to accept six Myanmar women as technical interns next year. “We’re looking ahead to the staffing shortage 10 years from now,” business manager Masachika Sato said.

The annual salary for the Myanmar interns will be about ¥2.6 million, almost the same as that of new graduates.

The six women are currently learning Japanese and nursing care at a vocational school in Myanmar, and keep in touch with Kochi-kai by internet phone once a month. Conversation with the staff helps them become familiar with the workplace.

The vocational school is managed by an organization called the Myanmar Unity based in Yangon, which recruits interns and deals with necessary procedures.

Akira Kitanaka, the supreme adviser of the Myanmar Unity, said: “There aren’t many jobs in Myanmar, and wages are low. Many people want to help the elderly and want to work in the nursing care industry in Japan.”

According to the Myanmar Unity, about 90 of approximately 180 students have found jobs at nursing facilities in Japan.

The government is hurrying to accept foreigners because of the serious labor shortage in the nursing care industry. In 2025, when all the baby boomers born in the latter half of the 1940s will reach 75 or older, there is expected to be a shortage of about 380,000 nursing care workers nationwide.

Some facilities are taking a wait-and-see approach. It is uncertain how many foreigners will become nursing care workers, but the government intends to consider them as a way to solve the labor shortage.

Concern about lower quality

In response to the government move, there has been concern about foreign interns’ ability to communicate with residents and staff at their workplace.

Nursing care interns are required to achieve a certain level in tests of Japanese language proficiency. Specifically, when they come to Japan, they need to be “able to understand basic Japanese” and by the second year they need to “understand Japanese used in daily situations to a certain extent.”

However, nursing care covers a wide range of tasks, including helping people with eating and bathing, and some technical terms are used. There are also fears that inadequate communication abilities with the elderly could lead to accidents like food getting into a person’s trachea.

In facilities where staffers work 24-hour shifts, it is also essential to pass along details about changes in residents’ physical condition.

An official at a nursing care facility that plans to accept six Vietnamese interns expressed concern about the burden on Japanese staff, saying: “It’s difficult for interns to use kanji and write accurate handover reports. Japanese staff will probably have to listen to residents and update the records.”

The monthly salary of nursing care workers averages about ¥100,000 lower than the overall average in Japan.

Yasuhiro Yuki, a professor at Shukutoku University well versed in the technical intern program, said: “The labor shortage problem should be solved through the process of improving the wages of Japanese people. If front-line nursing care workers continue to be treated poorly, excellent personnel will quit their jobs.

“In a situation like this, if the workplaces are flooded with foreign interns who are not adequately guided by Japanese staff, that would lead to a decline in the quality of nursing care.”

Nursing care is a matter of life and death for the elderly, and if a series of problems occur, the door to the industry will be closed to foreign workers. Interns must be fully trained so as not to cause anxiety among the people they care for.

New residence status

Channels to allow foreigners to work in nursing care are also being developed outside the technical intern system. One is the creation of a “nursing care” status of residence in Japan for people with a national qualification as a certified care worker, an important job in this industry.

Under the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law that came into force in September, it became possible for foreign students who graduate from a Japanese vocational or training school and acquire a certified care worker qualification to work in Japan.

As a result, the number of foreign students in training or vocational schools for nursing care workers has increased rapidly.

According to the Japan Association of Training Institutions for Certified Care Workers, a public interest incorporated association in Tokyo, a total of 591 foreign students from Vietnam, China and others were enrolled in these schools in fiscal 2017. This is about 30 times the number in fiscal 2012.

Of the 38 new students enrolled this fiscal year at the Kanto Welfare College in Konosu, Saitama Prefecture, 29 are foreign.

Another channel is to accept personnel from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam based on their economic partnership agreements with Japan.

This process began in fiscal 2008, and about 3,500 people arrived from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2017. Of this number, about 540 have acquired the qualification.

However, the passing rate of the certified care worker examination, which requires advanced knowledge and skills, has remained at around 50 percent in recent years.

The technical intern system is seen to pose a low barrier to entry, as there is no need to acquire the national qualification. For that reason, there are growing expectations for the system to solve the labor shortage in the industry.

In addition to tightening the guidance and supervision of organizations and companies that accept interns, the practical training period has been extended from up to three years to up to five years. Penalties were also established for cases of unpaid wages, forcible seizure of passports and other human rights violations against interns.

Source: Eleven Myanmar

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