PhD Student, International Relations, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan and
Full Time Lecturer at the Department of International Relations,
University of Al Azhar Indonesia
Covid-19 changed all aspects of life. Based on a report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in the world of work, the pandemic has had a great effect of inequality for certain parties, including young people, the elderly, unprotected workers, and migrant workers. (ILO, 2020) It also stated that the crisis has already transformed into an economic and labor market shock, impacting not only supply (production of goods and services) but also demand (consumption and investment). Disruptions to production, initially in Asia, have now spread to supply chains across the world. All businesses, regardless of size, are facing serious challenges, especially those in the aviation, tourism, and hospitality industries, with a real threat of significant declines in revenue, insolvencies, and job losses in specific sectors. (ILO, 2020)
Based on these conditions, the cooperation between Indonesia and Japan through the technical intern trainee program also became one of the programs affected by this Covid-19 outbreak. Japan introduced the foreign technical internship program in 1993 with the aim of “transferring manufacturing technologies and other skills” to developing countries including Indonesia. Indonesia itself has sent trainees to Japan under a cooperation agreement signed in 1993 between Indonesia’s Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration and the Japan Association of International Manpower Development. (depnakertrans.go.id, 2020)
The need for trainees is increasing due to the continuing decline of Japan’s demographic numbers. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s decision to bar entry during the Covid-19 pandemic for 86 countries, including those sending trainees, has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of foreign workers. Among the sectors that experienced a drastic decline were the agriculture and plantation sectors. According to Asahi, the Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives (JA-Zenchu) sent out a special questionnaire to member co-operatives in late February to assess the work situation and as a result, nine prefectural co-operatives gave specific figures for the number of technical intern trainees who might not show up as originally planned. Those nine prefectures faced a total shortage of about 360 trainees. (asahi.com, 2020)
Meanwhile, in Indonesia, the travel plans of many prospective interns who have passed the examination and are ready to leave for Japan must be postponed or even canceled. In Tasikmalaya, for example, the trips of about 20 prospective trainees who were scheduled to depart in March 2020 are threatened to be canceled. The head of the Tasikmalaya City Labor Office, Rahmat Mahmuda, said that this problem is not only for the trainees who will be dispatched but also for the trainees who are still there since the corona virus can be brought back by the repatriated. (kabar-priangan.com, 2020) Moreover, based on my interviews, several private organizations in West Java have stopped their activities, all classes have been closed and students have been discharged, while those in Japan have to extend contracts, but those who have to go home are still constrained due to the unavailability of transportation in Indonesia at this time.
However, the enthusiasm of Indonesians towards the Japanese intern trainee program, one of which is in West Sumatra which continues to be open, remains high because it is believed that Japan is a country that has successfully controlled the crisis. The West Sumatran regional government also supports this programe as a solution to reduce unemployment in the province.. (tvrisumbar.co.id, 2020)
Initially, to overcome the problems faced by foreign workers in Japan, the Japanese government and Japanese immigration authorities planned to help foreign technical trainees and other workers find employment in the country amid the coronavirus outbreak. (NHK.or.jp, 2020)
However, worker safety should be the main priority. Moreover, all forms of exploitation should be avoided so as to reflect the original purpose of the program, which is to acquire skills. As stated by the Japan Labor Standard Act: “An employer shall not exploit an apprentice, student, trainee, or other worker, by whatever name such person may be called, by reason of the fact that such person is seeking to acquire a skill.” (ILO.org, 2020) Hence, in this Covid-19 pandemic, protecting worker health is a vital human right applicable to both nationals and non-nationals. However, migrant workers, most of whom dream of crossing over to greener pastures, are still disproportionately at risk from the impacts of the pandemic, due to inadequate and crowded living conditions, more limited access to healthcare and basic services, poor working conditions, and exploitative labor systems. Striking the balance between one’s economic stability and safety continues to be a dilemma in a world where insecurity continues to peak with the number of Covid-19cases.
ILO.Org. (2020, March 19) How will COVID-19 affect the world of work?
ILO.Org. (2020, March 18) ILO Monitor 1st Edition COVID-19 and the world of work: Impact and policy responses
Kemnaker. (2020, April 30) Drektorat Jenderal Pembinaan Pelatihan dan Produktivitas
Asahi. (2020, March 13) Hirobumi Ohinata, Fruit and veg scare over labor shortage due to coronavirus fear
Kabar Priangan. (2020, February 15) Dampak Virus Korona, 20 Warga Tasik Terancam Batal
TVRI Sumbar. (2020, March 6) Antusias Masyarakat Magang Ke Jepang Tetap Tinggi
NHK Japan. (2020, April 17) Support Planned For Foreign Trainees and Workers
ILO.Org. Labour Law of Japan