Punched, beaten, kicked: Vietnamese worker alleges violent abuse in Japan

©GCR, illustration by Denis Carrier
A Vietnamese man who worked as a trainee at a construction company in western Japan has captured media attention with his claims of physical and mental abuse meted out by colleagues over a two-year period.

His move raises concerns again that a Japanese government-sponsored technical internship programme set up to attract foreign workers to Japan’s labour-starved construction sector is being used by some Japanese companies to exploit vulnerable workers, leaving them open to cruelty and abuse.

The man, who did not give his name or the name of the company he worked for, is demanding an apology and compensation from the company and from the organisation that arranged his placement.

He went public with his allegations at a press conference in Okayama, a city in Honshu about 540km west of Tokyo. He was joined by a representative from his union, Fukuyama Union Tampopo. His story was picked up by the Kyodo News Agency and reported on Monday.

The internship programme has been criticised as a cover for companies to import cheap labour from other Asian countries.

In 2018, three Vietnamese workers complained about being made to remove soil contaminated in the Fukushima nuclear disaster without machines. A probe by the Japanese justice ministry found that four Japanese companies used foreign trainees this way, and banned one of them from accepting new trainees for five years.

The 41-year-old said the attacks began a month after he started working at the company in the autumn of 2019.

Journalists were shown video footage, later published by Kyodo on YouTube, showing the man being hit on the head and body with a broom handle, kicked in an office and punched while a passenger in a truck.

In addition to this, the man claimed he suffered broken ribs after being kicked by a colleague wearing safety boots, and that a scaffolding part was thrown at his face, breaking a tooth.

The man, who was taken into protective custody after taking his complaints to the union in October, said he wished to transfer to another company in Japan and has not reported the incidents to police.

Speaking through an interpreter, the man said he had kept silent because he did not want to cause trouble for his family or other trainees. The man came to Japan with his wife and five-year-old daughter after leaving a low-paying job at a Vietnamese factory.

He said: “I have a large amount of debt to pay, including a fee of 1 million yen [$8,700] to the placement agency, and if I quit the company, I can not repay it and I can not send money to my family. I was afraid of revenge if I appealed to the outside. I had to put up with it.”

A lawyer representing the construction company declined to comment, saying it was in the process of negotiating a settlement, while an official of the organisation who arranged his placement said it would not comment with settlement discussions in progress.

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