Stop Taking Away Passports! Protect foreign employees in Japan

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NPO Posse Foreign Labor Support Center is tackling the labor and living problems of foreign workers. Consultations, outreach, and disseminating information about issues in order to improve the work environment for foreign workers is mainly worked on by high school and university students. 

This time, we would like to have your support and signature for the prohibition that companies take ID (passports or graduate certificates) away from foreign workers. 

Some Japanese companies deprive foreign workers of their passports so that the companies can force them to work unfairly. This is not prohibited in Japan. We have six requests for consultation about “the deprivation of ID” from foreign workers, so the regulation is necessary to protect their rights. 

The case of Brenda from the Philippines

Brenda (pseudonym) is a Filipino woman who has been in Japan for three years. She started to work for the Advanceconsul Immigration Lawyer Office located in Yokohama as an interpreter and translator in May of 2019. She gave her passport, graduation certificate, and transcript to the company when she joined it, because these original documents were required to renew her visa status. She assumed her passport would be returned once the procedure was completed. 

However, these documents were not returned to her, even though her visa was renewed. She asked the company to give them back to her, but they rejected her request. They stated that her passport was supposed to be kept by the company. They knew that she was unable to be away from the company without her passport.

When she joined the company, they had a "passport management contract" with her. She could not fully understand the contents of the contract, because she could not read difficult Japanese. The contract states that "all passport management methods are decided by the company" and "passports are managed by the company even after retirement." Brenda didn't know about this statement until POSSE volunteer staff explained it to her.

She got anxious and sent a message to NPO Posse via Facebook saying "Help Me", which led to a consultation. After that, Brenda joined The Labor Union (General Support Union), which POSSE cooperates with, and repeatedly attempted collective bargaining with the company. The company refused collective bargaining and continued to refuse to return the passport. Therefore, Brenda filed a civil suit, with the support of POSSE, on January 16, 2020 in the Yokohama District Court. The suit was against Mr. Komine, the representative of Advanced Consulting, for seeking the return of her passport and compensation.

Identification cards, such as passports and graduation certificates, were finally returned to Brenda on the trial date of August 25, this year. However, the company did not admit its faults. The trial continues for compensation.

"Forced labor" is possible by confiscating the passports foreign workers

If a foreign worker’s passport or university degree is confiscated by a company in Japan, they will not be able to return to their home country, and it is difficult to change jobs to another company. Posse has received six such consultations from migrant workers including Technical Intern Trainees so far, but it is considered to be just the “tip of the iceberg”.

Why do companies keep foreigners' passports? This is to prevent foreign workers from escaping, even in a poor working environment. Companies want them to work long hours at low wages. It is part of their labor management strategy to take away their passports, to prevent them from changing jobs, rather than trying to settle issues in the workplace by raising wages.

Globally, it is believed that companies can force employees to work by keeping their passports. Therefore, the United Nations has stated, “It shall be unlawful for anyone…. to confiscate, destroy or attempt to destroy identity documents, documents authorizing entry to or stay, residence or establishment in the national territory, or work permits.” ("International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990)").  Also, in the United States and Brazil, corporate passport management is illegal.

However, in Japan there are no restrictions on the company's storage of passports of foreign workers,except for a “technical intern trainee". 

Worldwide, the act of keeping passports by companies is associated with forced labor. It is recognized as an act that should be prohibited. We are conducting a campaign for similar regulations in Japan. Please support us!

NPO Posse Foreign Labor Support Center

supportcenter@npoposse.jp

https://foreignworkersupport.wixsite.com/mysite/english