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HOME  > Past issues  > 2014 May 21 - 27  > Construction sector labor shortage should be solved through drastic improvement of working environment
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2014 May 21 - 27 [LABOR]

Construction sector labor shortage should be solved through drastic improvement of working environment

May 25, 2014
The Abe government recently announced a plan to utilize foreign trainees as an urgent measure to respond to a shortage of construction workers amid the increasing construction demands for recovery from the 2011 disaster and the preparations needed for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Many professionals as well as trade unions are criticizing the government plan as haphazard and unhelpful in resolving the labor shortage and the aging of workers in the construction industry.

The industry already accepts foreign trainees. However, National Federation of Construction Workers’ Unions (Zenkensoren) vice secretary general Taguchi Masatoshi said, “From the point of occupational safety, foreign trainees are excluded from the center of construction sites.”

Taguchi explained that at sites involving the initial construction phase of putting up girders, a key component of construction production, workers have difficulty in hearing their supervisor’s orders and instructions due to excessive noise from construction machinery such as cranes, and that even Japanese workers suffer from fatal accidents, including falls. He said, “The use of foreign trainees with insufficient Japanese-language ability at such a dangerous site should not be an option. The government plan has no feasibility to succeed.”

The industrial training and internship program was established under a slogan of “making an international contribution”. The program aims to contribute to other countries’ economic development by accepting technical trainees from these countries. Under the program, trainees acquire skills through on-the-job training for a maximum of three years.

The government’s urgent measure enables those who finished training for construction workers to be engaged in construction jobs with a two-year term limit.

Fukushima University professor Sakamoto Megumi, an authority on the foreign trainee program, pointed out that utilization of fixed-term foreign workers could create problems in fostering skilled workers. The professor criticized, “The government appears to intend to expand the use of foreign workers as a cheap labor force by abandoning the program’s initial intent of making an international contribution.”

The number of skilled construction workers decreased to 3.38 million in 2013 from the peak of 4.55 million in 1997. Of them, 30% are workers aged 55 and older and only 10% are 29 years and younger.

“It is essential to attract construction workers to work at construction sites through higher wages and a better social security program rather than using more foreign workers,” said the Zenkensoren official.

Japan’s major construction industry organization, the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors, has also proposed a drastic improvement of construction workers’ working environment including an increase in the average annual income which is 1.2 million yen lower than the average of 5.3 million yen for male workers in all industries.

Past related article:
> Working conditions overall should be improved before accepting more foreign workers [April 9, 2014]
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