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Tough going for Vietnamese workers in Japan as trainees

By Le Tuyet   May 29, 2022 | 07:31 am PT
Vietnamese workers going to Japan as trainees receive minimum wages and cannot change jobs.

Despite graduating with honors in pedagogy from the University of Da Nang, 34-year-old Phan Van Huy from the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak could not find work in Vietnam.

Huy decided to work abroad after working at three different companies that paid him a maximum monthly salary of VND7 million (over $301).

The Suleco Specialist and Labor Export Service Jsc in HCMC helped Huy go to work in Japan through a welding skills trainee program.

"By the time I got on the plane, I had borrowed more than VND200 million to pay for training courses, lodging, language learning and other things," Huy said, recalling what had happened eight years ago.

Phan Van Huy works inside a factory in Japan. Photo by VnExpress/Uy Van

Phan Van Huy works at a factory in Japan. Photo by VnExpress/Uy Van

He was hired by an Osaka-based company and sent to Tochigi Prefecture through a Japanese labor union. He was paid ¥877 ($6.9) per hour, which is the regional minimum wage.

After the Japanese government made adjustments to the minimum salary, he was able to earn ¥963 for every hour worked by the third year.

Employees will have approximately 20 percent of their base salary deducted each month to cover accident, medical, social, unemployment, and trainee insurance. Taxes, house rent, meals, and union dues are also deducted from the salary.

To have a monthly surplus of VND20-27 million to send back to his family back home to pay his debts and care for his wife and children, Huy has to work very hard, be willing to work overtime, and watch his spending very closely.

During his first year in Japan, he only had instant noodles for breakfast and dinner every day.

Huy was required to return home at the end of his three-year contract but applied for a two-year extension, at which point his basic salary was raised to ¥1,000 per hour.

He took the exam to get a certificate of vocational skills after five years as a trainee and continued to stay under the specified skills program. Huy's hourly wage is currently ¥1,150.

"While regular welding workers with six years of experience are paid ¥1,300-1,700 yen per hour, trainees must receive a lower rate. The reason for this is that the first five years are considered apprenticeship," Huy explained.

Phan Viet Anh, a three-year trainee in Japan who returned home in 2020 and wrote an autobiography called "Toi Di Nhat" (I Went To Japan), said that in theory, the workers participating in the trainee program will be trained by the Japanese side in order to benefit from transfer of knowledge and technology.

However, the jobs that are "taught" to trainees are very simple, such as driving an excavator, inspecting goods, compacting soil... all of which require good health and physical strength. Not to mention that many jobs in Japan are not available in Vietnam, and techniques and machines are incompatible, making it difficult for workers who return to find jobs back home.

"In the end, the ones that suffer the most are Vietnamese workers sent abroad," Anh said. Employees are not permitted to change jobs on their own during the three-year period.

‘Underground work’

Vietnamese workers are rarely permitted to work overtime, working conditions are difficult, and they are not permitted to change jobs.

This spurs many workers to work "underground" for other businesses in order to augment their income.

Language classes for workers going to Japan under the trainee program of Saigon International Service Co., Ltd. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

Workers going to Japan attend language classes under the trainee program of Saigon International Service Co., Ltd. Photo by VnExpress/An Phuong

Nguyen Dinh Giang, deputy head of the Market Development Department of Suleco Specialist and Labor Export Service Jsc, said many people signed up for the trainee programs going to Japan because they do not have degree requirements and there are a wide range of professions to choose from.

"Because it requires almost no qualifications and skills, the receiving enterprises only pay the regional minimum," Giang said.

After deducting all insurance and fees, trainees can still earn approximately VND20 million per month, he added.

However, Giang acknowledged that the trainee program has some flaws. Employees, for example, are not permitted to change factories unless the previous one is closed.

Vietnam plans to send 90,000 workers abroad this year. Japan remains the top destination, with approximately 60,000 people, primarily trainees, followed by Taiwan with nearly 13,000 people, South Korea with 7,000 and other countries such as Australia and Canada with fewer applicants.

 
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