Japan's Brazilians face uncertainty amid mass layoffs (Feature)
By Chie Matsumoto Feb 2, 2009, 5:40 GMT
Nagoya, Japan - As the global recession hits Japan's export-driven economy, temporary workers at auto-parts and electronics plants have been among the first to lose their jobs with the 320,000 Brazilians living in Japan particularly vulnerable to the layoffs.
More than 800 Brazilians and their supporters took to the streets of the central Japanese city of Nagoya Sunday, raising their green and yellow national flags and calling for no more layoffs, secure employment and proper schooling for their children.
Paulo Kanashiro and Minoru Nishizawa, both Brazilians who have Japanese ancestry, brought their Brazilian co-workers from a Toyota subsidiary to the demonstration to demand from the Japanese government the same rights it guarantees Japanese workers.
'We are also paying taxes here,' 33-year-old Nishizawa of Sao Paulo said. 'Why are we not eligible for the same rights?'
In December, nearly 500 Japanese temporary workers who lost their jobs because of production reductions flocked to a Tokyo park to receive free lodging and food. About 300 of them were able to receive government subsidies and temporary lodging before they began their search for a new job.
But the situation is different for Brazilians.
Often called 'dekasegi,' or migrant workers, they are considered only temporary residents who will eventually return to their homelands.
Brazilians and other South American nationals began migrating to Japan in large numbers in search of higher paid work in 1990 when the immigration law was revised. Since then, they have dominated the manufacturing workforce.
Some still plan to return to Brazil, but for many other Brazilians, Japan has already become home. Kanashiro and Nishizawa, who have lived and worked in Japan for 16 years, can't imagine leaving Japan just because they are jobless.
Kanashiro moved to Hekinan city in Aichi prefecture from Campo Grande in Brazil with several members of his family.
'Even if we had a choice of returning to Brazil, we'd have to start from scratch there,' the 29-year-old Kanashiro said.
Workers at the Hekinan factory of a Toyota subsidiary suffered an almost 70-per-cent reduction in their pay, according to Nishizawa.
Brazilians there have worked overtime, on weekends and during Japanese holidays when their Japanese colleagues wanted off, he said.
The Brazilian migrant workers said they 'contributed to the prosperity of the Japanese economy and society for more than 20 years' and to building a strong foundation for Japan's manufacturing industry.
But the government does not see Brazilian migrant workers as deserving certain rights, Nishizawa said. 'We are treated like tissues in that we are destined to be thrown away when our job is done,' he charged
Nishizawa said he feels that the government realizes the gravity of the problem for the Japanese workers but ignores the plight of the Brazilians.
As long as there were plenty of jobs available, Japan welcomed the migrant workers with open arms and tolerated the dekasegi workers who didn't speak the local language, they said.
But when times go bad, 'Japanese society abandons the Brazilians,' Nishizawa said. 'We want a partnership, not ownership, by the Japanese.'
For others, the situation is even more desperate because the layoffs have been accompanied by evictions from employer-provided apartments.
Elisabete Kikuchi has helped six families with young children find temporary shelter at a hotel that is no longer in business.
Support is scarce, however. Kikuchi, a Japanese-Brazilian who settled in her ancestor's homeland 19 years ago, said she needs extensive manpower and financial support to supply these homeless families with food, utilities and other necessities.
Many of the new jobless have to decide quickly whether to stay or go while they can still afford the tickets home to Brazil.
Sergio and Mari Saito sent their daughter home in October when their work slowed and they could no longer afford her schooling in Japan.
Nearly half of about 500 workers at a Toyota parts plant where Mari Saito works have been laid off since November because of production cuts.
Toyota Motor Corp was expected to suffer an operating loss of 400 billion yen (4.45 billion dollars) in the current fiscal year, which ends March 31, as it struggles with a strong yen and declining demand amid the global economic downturn, media reports said.
Sergio Saito's workplace was closed Friday - the first weekday that the plant had stopped the production line, he said.
Up until November, the plant was running at full capacity, the 43-year-old Japanese-Brazilian said, but after that, production was cut and so was his salary.