WITH THE DECLINE of working age employees threatening Japan’s economy, the ASEAN +3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO) said it backs Japan’s moves to open its doors to foreign workers to help address the issue of a shrinking working-age population.

In a blog post written by AMRO Associate Sophak Duong and Lead Economist Jae Young Lee for AMRO, the organization said the formerly rigid Japanese rules on foreign workers have now been adjusted to allow more foreign workers in.

Japan’s working-age population was 75.3 million in 2018, down sharply from 87 million in 1993.

“At this juncture, accepting more foreign workers is necessary to ensure a steady supply of labor to support economic growth. As a result, the Japanese government has taken major steps to welcome more foreign workers, the scale of which is unprecedented in Japanese history,” AMRO said.

Japan needs around 600,000 workers to address the labor shortage in 2019. AMRO reported that within the next five years, demand will rise to 1.3 million as forecast by the Japanese government.

Japan established two new visa categories for skilled workers in 14 specified industries. This law, which was passed by the Diet in late 2018, took affect in April, the stat of the Japanese fiscal year. One visa category allows those admitted to work in Japan for a maximum of five years; another category, Specified Skilled Workers, will be allowed to work in Japan for as long as their contract period.

Specified skilled workers covered under the law are care workers; building managers; machine parts and tooling workers; industrial machinery specialists; electric, electronics, and information professionals; construction workers; shipbuilding and ship machinery workers; automobile repair and maintenance specialists; aviation professionals; accommodations industry workers; agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture workers; food and beverage manufacturing workers; and food service specialists.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) signed a labor agreement with the Japanese government which named the Philippines a preferred source of foreign workers. Under the deal, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) will have access to about 30% of the 350,000 job vacancies under Japan’s new residency law.

AMRO also called on the Japanese government to establish a suitable working environment for foreign workers to attract them to Japan.

“Japan should consider providing a more favorable living and working environment to make them feel at home, including a social security system for foreign workers comparable to the scheme for Japanese peers. Loosening entry requirements, such as the minimum level of Japanese language required, can also increase the attractiveness of working in Japan,” AMRO said.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said OFWs are qualified to help address the labor gaps in Japan yet can only step in to work in some industries.

“The TUCP believes that OFWs have what it takes to help address some of the key labor gaps in Japan only up to some certain extent. There are only (a certain number) of jobs that the Japanese government may be willing to admit Filipinos… the two cultures complement each other — the Japanese are in need of workers and Filipinos needs better-paying jobs. But there are highly technical and highly sophisticated jobs that Filipinos are not exposed to and trained for,” Associated Labor Unions (ALU)-TUCP Spokesperson Alan A. Tanjusay said in message to BusinessWorld on Thursday.

Mr. Tanjusay also said that Filipinos are versatile and can easily adapt to any surroundings. He said “(We) are malleable and flexible in simple or complex environments. Every Filipino knows that one must be adept and skillful in order to survive.” — Gillian M. Cortez