Labor standards office to rule Chinese trainee at metal plant died of overwork

A local labor standards inspection office [in Ibaraki Prefecture] is set to recognize the death of a Chinese trainee at a metal processing factory was caused by overwork, officials said.

This will be the first time that the death of a foreign vocational trainee in Japan has been recognized as a work-related accident, according to a liaison council of attorneys working on issues related to foreign trainees.

Jiang Xiaodong died of heart failure at the company residence of Fuji Denka Kogyo in Itako, Ibaraki Prefecture, in June 2008 while employed at its factory under a government-backed training program. His bereaved family filed a petition with the Kashima Labor Standards Inspection Office in August last year for compensation for a work-related accident.

The labor office has confirmed that Jiang worked up to 98 hours of overtime a month between March and May 2008. Moreover, the office has found that the company forged his payroll book based on a false time-clock card, destroyed relevant documents and failed to pay him some overtime wages.

The office then concluded that Jiang died from overwork resulting from working excessively long hours in violation of the Labor Standards Law. It has also sent an investigation document on the company’s 66-year-old president to prosecutors, accusing him of violating the Labor Standards Law.

The president denied that the victim’s death was a result of overwork. “He underwent a health check in April 2008, and we paid due attention to his health. We had him work overtime on his request. We don’t think his death was a work-related accident.”

Shoichi Ibusuki, an attorney for the bereaved family [and special guest at Tozen’s 2010 Convention], emphasized how common such cases may be, saying, “It’s difficult to file a petition for compensation for a foreign trainee’s death as a result of a work-related accident because we can’t easily contact bereaved families. The latest case is the tip of the iceberg.”

Approximately 87,000 foreign nationals have undergone vocational training in Japan under the government-backed program, some 65,700 of whom are Chinese.

Until the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law came into force this month, trainees had not been recognized as workers — to whom the Labor Standards Law applies — during the first year of their training. Therefore, they were forced to work for extremely long hours at unreasonably low wages.

In fiscal 2008, a record 34 foreign vocational trainees died while they were in Japan, according to the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization. Of them, 16 died of brain or heart ailments allegedly caused by working too long — 2.5 times more than a year earlier.