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2009年2月12日 (木)


(Mainichi Japan) February 11, 2009

Time for government to take another look at half-cocked foreign nurse program



A total of 101 Indonesian nursing care worker candidates began working at nursing care facilities across Japan under the bilateral economic partnership agreement (EPA) in late January. However, after interviewing those involved in the project since the Diet approved the accord in spring last year, I've received the impression that Japan has accepted them without clarifying its stance toward the project.


In March 2006, then Foreign Minister Taro Aso declared that the bilateral EPA is aimed at making friends in a spirit of mutual benefit and mutual assistance. He also underscored the significance of developing bilateral economic relations, including the exchange of workers.


The Foreign Ministry and the Economic, Trade and Industry Ministry took the initiative in bringing the Indonesian nursing trainees to Japan, and most of the expense of Japanese language training was covered by official development assistance. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry chose to leave the content of training and consultation programs to the discretion of the each nursing institution, since "only a limited number of facilities benefit" from accepting trainees.


But the acceptance of the Indonesian trainees does not represent the opening of Japan's labor market to foreigners. The project is officially aimed at training and helping them obtain nursing care licenses, while allowing them to work in the industry. In that sense, it's similar to the existing vocational training systems for foreigners in other sectors.


Both projects are aimed at making up for shortages of labor under the guise of vocational training programs, and they give me the impression that the government is avoiding an in-depth discussion on the pros and cons of accepting foreign workers.


The Indonesian trainees are required to prepare to take the state nursing care examination three years after arrival. The pass rate for Japanese candidates is about 50 percent; nevertheless, the Indonesian candidates will have only one chance to take the exam, and those who fail will be forced to go home without being given a second chance. It appears to be discourteous to the Indonesian trainees, as the government has not worked out an education program aimed at helping them pass the examination.


There still is controversy over accepting foreign laborers. Some say that priority should be placed on improvement of working conditions and wage levels for Japanese nursing care workers. I have no objection to this opinion. Many care workers lament that they are too busy to chat with elderly patients, while others complain that they get only about 150,000 yen a month after tax despite working the night shift four or five times a month. These harsh conditions must be improved.


In April this year, fees for nursing care services will be raised by 3 percent to improve working conditions for care workers. Wages for Japanese nursing care workers are determined by the government, largely in proportion to the nursing care fees. If the fees could be raised by 20 to 30 percent with the public's consent, a sufficient number of Japanese nursing care workers might be secured.


However, the aging of Japan's population will peak in 2025, when the number of those aged 75 or older is expected to reach 22 million, compared to 13 million now. By that time, the working population supporting the aged is predicted to fall by millions.


Kyoto University Associate Prof. Wako Asato, who specializes in the issue of foreign care workers, urges the government to clearly recognize accepting foreign workers as a means of solving the shortage of care workers.

"Accepting foreign workers alone will not solve the problem. The important thing is what options are available, depending on the situation of each region. There should be a diversity of policy packages," he says.


I agree with his view. The government should strive to form a public consensus on accepting foreign care workers.


The aging of the population has spurred the migration of nursing care workers across national borders outside Japan. And with the globalization of the nursing care market, it's nothing special for elderly people to receive nursing care from foreign workers, and I don't think many Japanese people view this as an exceptional concept. There may be those who fear that if foreign workers are accepted by the nursing care industry, care services will be cheaper but of a poorer standard. This, however, depends on how we accept our foreign workers.


Following those from Indonesia, Filipino nurse and care worker candidates will arrive in Japan this coming spring. They will face various challenges, such as the language barrier and the communication gap. However, it's also a good opportunity for both Japanese and Filipino workers to learn about the culture of nursing care services in other countries.



The ongoing project under the EPA is testing whether Japanese and foreign care workers can help each other and become mutually beneficial friends. (By Hiroko Arita, Lifestyle News Center)


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