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Abe ‘eyes’ election with bill

The Yomiuri Shimbun A bill adopted by the government on Friday to widen the scope of accepting foreign workers from April 2019 is aimed at easing serious labor shortages in various sectors and thus removing a hindrance to economic growth.

The bill also suggests the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took into consideration requests from industry organizations, with an eye on a House of Councillors election next summer, because stable support for the Cabinet is greatly propped up by good economic conditions.

“It has become very difficult to secure employees in such fields as nursing care and construction. It is becoming a serious factor in the impediment on [economic] growth,” Abe said during Friday’s meeting of the House of Representatives’ Budget Committee as he stressed the significance of widening the acceptance of foreign workers.

While there are strong concerns within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner Komeito, it was Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the prime minister’s right-hand man, who led the government to change its stance.

Suga had been briefed about labor shortages in the nursing care industry, and started to examine the issue as a secret policy task last autumn. He was also prompted by the fact that labor shortages have become conspicuous in the construction sector, among other fields, ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

At first, the government ministries and agencies concerned held cautious views out of worries over a possible deterioration of public safety and adverse affects on the employment of Japanese. However, Suga is believed to have pushed through the plan to accept more foreign workers.

Thanks to Suga’s efforts, Abe called for detailed discussions on the issue at a February meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy. In June, the plan was incorporated into the Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform, known as the “big-boned policy.”

Some political pundits say the move is aimed at garnering votes for elections.

The government is considering accepting foreign workers in 14 fields, such as agriculture, nursing care and construction, in response to requests and petitions from those industry groups.

“[Abe] probably wants to do a favor for the business circle and industry organizations concerned, with an eye on unified local elections next spring and a House of Councillors election next summer,” a senior LDP official said.

The focus of discussions from now on will be on how many foreign workers should be accepted. Prior to Friday’s Cabinet meeting to approve the bill, the LDP’s Judicial Affairs Division adopted a resolution demanding the government decide a basic stance “by coordinating with the LDP.”

The government did not include in the bill specific figures about the scope of accepting foreign workers. Instead, it intends to include a number for the labor shortage in each industry in an ordinance for the bill. Speech

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