COVID-19 Op-ed

Suspending The Dream of Greener Pastures: The Effect of Covid-19 on the Indonesian Technical Intern Trainee Program in Japan

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Yusy WidarahestyPhD Student,
International Relations, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan
Full Time Lecturer at the Department of International
University of Al Azhar

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. (, 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.
(, 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. (,
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.. (, 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. (, 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.” (, 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.References:ILO.Org.
(2020, March 19) How
will COVID-19 affect the world of work?
ILO.Org. (2020, March 18)
Monitor 1st Edition COVID-19 and the world of work: Impact and policy
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
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)
Planned For Foreign Trainees and Workers
ILO.Org. Labour
Law of Japan

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