COVID-19 & BHR RESEARCH PROJECT
While migrant workers contribute to the economic development of destination countries worldwide, they and their families have vulnerabilities stemming from foreign nationality, language barrier and cultural differences, especially in accessing social security and healthcare system. These vulnerabilities are dramatically highlighted by the multifaceted economic and social impacts and limitations associated with the social response to coronavirus. Without adequate protection, they could immediately fall into poverty and are deprived of their human rights.
For example, there have been reports of cases in which restriction of immigration at the national border prevents migrant workers from meeting their families in country of origin, and in which access to safety nets such as unemployment insurance becomes unavailable despite difficulties in continuing activities to earn income. There are concerns about the difficulties and discrimination for migrant workers and their families in accessing to medical care. In Japan, unfortunately, dismissal of technical intern trainees, non-payment of leave allowances, and cancellation of job offers for international students have been reported. Given that their visa status restricts their free choice of jobs, there is an increasing concern that the number of workers who lose their jobs and fall into poverty will rise further.
International organizations such as the ILO, IOM, and OHCHR have issued guidance on protecting migrant workers affected by coronavirus and encouraged governments and businesses to take appropriate measures. There are cases overseas where government support is provided to migrant workers as well as to provide guidance for business to protect vulnerable workers in the supply chain. In case of Japan, government responses to extend the stay in the country for those who have difficulty returning to the country of origin, and financial aid for leave allowances and scholarships has also been put in place. In addition, support for job placement services has also been provided in industries where labor shortages emerge due to restrictions on immigration, such as agriculture.
As a recommendation to Japanese companies, it is important to conduct human rights due diligence on whether foreign workers (including part-time workers among foreign students) are involved in their own business including those in supply chains, whether foreign workers and their families are adversely affected by COVID-19, whether their safety and health and livelihoods are secured, and whether the business operation does not impose adverse impacts on their human rights. In cases where the foreign workers have lost their income, they need adequate compensation for leave of absence paid in accordance with the applicable law, and tangible and intangible support based on their needs may be considered. In Japan, it is also effective to provide assistance for health and medical consultation, and help accessing to the administrative support and consultation service, since those foreign workers often have difficulty in accessing medical care and administrative information due to language barriers in particular. Labor unions and NGOs also offer some assistance available for foreign workers, so it is recommended to help them access those information as well.
It is important for companies to secure the employment of foreign workers to the extent possible, ensure health and safety, provide accurate information, give sufficient guidance on social security system, ensure equality with Japanese nationals, and give due consideration to gender-sensitive measures, while referring to requests from the central and local governments as well as the guidance issued by the ILO and the IOM mentioned above. Again, many foreign workers working in Japan have limited freedom to move back to their home countries, lose the opportunity to meet their families, have difficulty in finding other jobs due to visa restraints, and have difficulty in accessing resources needed for their livelihoods, such as medical care and social security. Listening to their voice and needs as much as possible is of paramount importance.
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Business and Human Rights Lawyers Network Japan
Emi OMURA, Akiko SATO, and Daisuke TAKAHASHI
C/O Research Center for Sustainable Peace (RCSP),
The University of Tokyo
3-8-1 Komaba, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, 153-8902, JAPAN