Terrie's Take: No Welfare for Foreigners Not Apocalyptic, Wages Down, Chinese Airline, and Fusion!

Terrie's Take - AkihabaraNews.com

Terrie’s Take is a selection of Japan-centric news collected and collated by long-time resident and media business professional Terrie Lloyd. AkihabaraNews is pleased to present Terrie’s learned perspective; we all could use another take on the news - here’s Terrie’s:

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Terrie’s Take on August 4, 2014

Feature:

  • No Welfare for Foreigners Ruling Not Apocalyptic

Briefs:

  • Real wages fall in June
  • New Yahoo car navi app and online mall update
  • Over 1/3 large firms hurt by geopolitical tensions
  • Breakthrough high-current experiment
  • Spring's new domestic LCC service starts

No Welfare for Foreigners Ruling Not Apocalyptic
This last week, popular foreigner-related message boards lit up in collective outrage over the finding of the Japanese Supreme Court, that foreigners are not legally entitled to receive welfare support if they get into personal financial trouble. As readers will recall, the case was presided over by the Supreme Court after a series of legal challenges by an 82-year old ethnically Chinese (but who was born in Japan and is for all intents and purposes a Japanese) lady residing in Oita, Kyushu.

She was fighting to get welfare payments that were originally denied by the city of Oita because she has some financial savings. In this respect, she appears to have been treated similarly to how a Japanese would have been treated -- in that if you have money, you're expected to use it first before applying for welfare. Nonetheless, she sued the city, and got the ruling reversed by the Fukuoka High Court, and thus started receiving welfare again from 2011 until now.

Although Oita city originally refused payments based on her financial position, as the case rose up through the courts it became clear that another issue was at stake -- whether or not a foreigner like her was even entitled to welfare in the first place. We suspect it was a lot easier for the Supreme Court to make a judgement based on this aspect of the case rather than focus on financial needs, which would have upset a lot of Japanese. In this sense you can't blame them for taking the most politically expedient route to a "no" decision.

The main complaint on the message boards was the unfairness of denying foreign residents a privilege that Japanese can receive. "Why are we paying taxes?" was a repeated refrain. Especially long-term residents, who function as "almost-citizens", similar to green card holders in the USA, it seemed very parsimonious. We decided to do some research for this week's Take and found that the crux of the Supreme Court rests on whether you are a citizen and thus entitled to support. Indeed, as the Japan Times also confirmed in a follow up article, foreigners have only been able to receive welfare checks until now based on a humanitarian decision made by the Japanese government back in the 1950's. It was never a legal requirement.

It's easy to see the wide gap between what foreigners think of the Supreme Court ruling, and what Japanese do. For foreigners, it's just another of a thousand cuts, reminding otherwise staunch tax-paying members of the community that they are outsiders and that Japan has no interest in making them feel at home. For Japanese, it's either puzzlement that foreigners should be expecting something they have never been legally entitled to and have been lucky to get up until now, or more radically, that foreigners who want to be treated as Japanese should become Japanese. Naturalizing isn't that hard to do and Japanese citizenship does at least give you a First-world passport.

This of course gets into whether long-term visa holders should be pressured/coerced into becoming citizens, as seems to be the trend in Western countries. Personally, we're glad that Japan doesn't force you to decide, because there are many reasons why a foreign national might wish to keep their original nationality, such as having family and property commitments back home that require local citizenship, planning to retire to another country and thus preferring to keep an existing passport with better rights, or simply feeling that being married to a Japanese doesn't mean you have to "marry" the Japanese system as well. We see nothing wrong with a person living and working temporarily in Japan and still receiving rights that should accrue to any long-term tax payer. Clearly the Japanese judiciary doesn't think the same thing.

What is important to know about this ruling is that while it denies ALL social welfare to foreigners that in legislation or the Constitution is worded to apply to citizens, many benefits denied are subsequently modified by international (mostly UN) treaties signed by Japan over the years. For example, pensions and health benefits ARE covered by international treaties and so foreigners will continue by law to receive these benefits as they did before. The term "welfare" in this particular case refers to payments made when you have no other coverage to see you through financially, and so is treated differently from the social insurance system ("Shakai Hoken") that all of us are supposed to contribute to by law.

Unfortunately, not everyone is covered by social insurance and thus welfare payments could become a necessity...

For example, foreigners who come to Japan after the age of 35 (say they married a Japanese while in their 40's and subsequently moved here for the spouse to look after aging parents), then since even if they pay into the social insurance system they won't qualify for a pension due to the 25-year-minimum-payments rule. It is conceivable that after retirement they may not be able to earn enough to support themselves, and then they will be at the mercy of the local authorities -- who btw still have the discretion to make welfare payments if they wish. Further, we have heard that the Social Insurance authorities are on occasion willing to make exceptions to the 25 years rule -- so it's not a hopeless case.

Then there are the so-called "Zainichi" foreigners, those 3rd and 4th generation Koreans, Chinese, and others, who were brought to Japan forcibly during the war, and who due to changing laws have been unable to meet the legal requirements to gain the pension and other benefits. Still others include foreign spouses who have not worked but who have kids and who have divorced. Right now, by custom, the local authorities give these one-parent families welfare assistance, but you do wonder, as finances become tighter due to the aging society if at some point these families will simply be told to "go home"... And that of course is why foreigners are upset. It's the possibility that the loss of the right to receive assistance may become a reality one day.

This case certainly doesn't help Japan in its quest to make Japan more attractive to highly-skilled immigrants. If the country was really serious about improving its image it would take a leaf out of South Korea's book, and introduce legislation that guarantees that foreigners can enjoy all the same rights and privileges as nationals, with perhaps the exceptions of military service and voting. Or Japan could go even further than South Korea, and become the first first-world nation to ratify the UN's 1990 convention on the protection of the rights of migrant workers.

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cmw/cmw.htm

This excellent document covers all the major issues that foreign migrant workers have in Japan, and would provide Japan with a framework similar to the Hague Convention and other treaties, that would allow it to update domestic laws that discriminate against non-Japanese residents (migrant workers). This would surely boost the nation's chances of attracting talented migrants, since signing it would place Japan ahead of Australia, Canada, and the USA in terms of legal rights. Article 27, for example, directly addresses the issue of social security by saying that, "Migrant workers and members of their families shall enjoy in the State of employment the same treatment granted to nationals in so far as they fulfill the requirements provided for by the applicable legislation of that State..."

The problem is that not one first world country has actually signed this landmark treaty. Mostly, we suppose, because they feel it impinges on their domestic laws restricting immigrant rights as part of a larger fight to control immigration itself. Unfortunately, this is the reality of the world we live in, and provides Japan with an excellent excuse not to offer more rights and privileges to foreigners living here.

Real wages fall in June
Taking into account inflation, real wages in June fell by 3.8% over June 2013, thus marking last month the largest drop in real wages since December 2009, in the fall-out from the Lehman Shock. Average total wages actually grew a modest 0.4% in June, but not only was this a continuation of a falling trend -- 0.7% increases in March and April and 0.6% increase in May -- those monthly numbers don't take into account the effect of inflation. Hence the importance of qualifying the word wages to real wages, take into account the dynamic of inflation. ***Ed: Authorities are saying that this is just a preliminary number and may yet still be adjusted. However, from what we can see, although some employees of large, listed exporting companies are getting fatter bonuses, most companies are still hiring part-timers and paying lower wages as a means to survive.** (Source: TT commentary from wsj.com, Jul 30, 2014) - http://on.wsj.com/UKfr0x

New Yahoo car navi app and online mall update
In a bid to compete with Google and Apple, Yahoo Japan has launched a car navigation app for smartphones and tablets. The new app is fully localized and indicates alternative routes for traffic jams, open parking lots, and lower-priced gas stations. The app comes as Yahoo has been experiencing amazing growth in its online shopping mall. The company decided that to compete better with Rakuten it would do away with online merchant fees and make the site essentially free to be on. Since the campaign started last fall, the number of merchants on the site has soared from 19,932 to 134,000 stores. ***Ed: Will be interesting to see what type of impact Yahoo's move on the shopping mall will have on Rakuten. We feel that Rakuten is over-extended.** (Source: TT commentary from marketwatch.com, Jul 31, 2014) - http://on.mktw.net/WUqTsr

Over 1/3 large firms hurt by geopolitical tensions
A recent Reuters poll has found that territorial and ideological tensions between Japan and its neighbors China and South Korea are having a real and negative effect on Japanese exporters. The poll of 276 respondee firms found that 88 of them said their businesses were hurt to some degree. Generally speaking the effect was weak sales and/or difficulty in buying materials or parts. In some cases companies said that their prospective and former customers even refused to meet with them -- especially where those companies were government-related in some way. Investment by Japanese firms in China was off by 30% in 2013 and for South Korea it was down by 18%. (Source: TT commentary from reuters.com, Jul 28) - http://reut.rs/1uc20CY

Breakthrough high-current experiment
In another step towards magnetic fusion reactors, scientists from the National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFS) and Tohoku University have achieved a world record current flow of 100KA. They achieved the milestone by using yttrium superconducting tapes arranged in stacks. The tapes were cooled to a relatively warm minus 253 degrees Celsius and were subjected to current flow of 40 A/sq mm. ***Ed: Nice photo with the article showing superconductive (Meissner effect) levitation.** (Source: TT commentary from rt.com, July 27, 2014) - http://bit.ly/1nhlL6D

Spring's new domestic LCC service starts
Chinese LCC Spring Airlines launched its Japanese domestic service on Friday, with three routes, between Narita and Takamatsu (Kagawa, Shikoku), Hiroshima, and Saga (Kyushu). The airline will run a daily round trip to each destination. Originally Spring Air was planning to launch its services in May, but put off the launch due to delays in preparing staff and support. The company says it is looking for a seat occupancy rate of 70% - 80%. ***Ed: Their travel times are pretty good, basically near the middle of each day, and prices are very competitive, so we imagine their occupancy levels will be pretty good...** (Source: TT commentary from japantimes.co.jp, Aug 01, 2014) - http://bit.ly/1py5sXp

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That was Terrie's Take.

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