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Japan to open doors to 345,000 foreign workers as labour pool ages

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Japan is being forced into accepting hundreds of thousands more workers from abroad; an exclusive interview with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; it promises to be a big day in Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Seniors take a break on benches at a temple in Sugamo district in Tokyo. The country's population is shrinking, and more than 20 per cent of its citizens aged 65 or older. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • Japan is being forced into accepting hundreds of thousands more workers from abroad.
  • Rosemary Barton sits down for an exclusive interview with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
  • Today promises to be a big day in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, at least gauging by Donald Trump's tweets.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Jobs in Japan

After centuries of actively trying to keep foreigners out, Japan is being forced into accepting hundreds of thousands more workers from abroad.

The Diet, the country's parliament, is set to pass new legislation that will drastically increase the number of low-skill, low-wage workers allowed into the country, bowing to the inescapable pressure of demographics.

Last year, Japan's population shrank 0.3 per cent to 125.2 million as the country recorded just 946,060 births, the lowest number since 1899. And with more than 20 per cent of its citizens aged 65 or older, the number of available jobs far outstrips the number of workers.

As a result, the conservative government of Shinzo Abe is reluctantly reforming the nation's immigration laws to allow as many as 345,000 more blue-collar workers into the country over the next five years.

An Indonesian worker processes copper pipes at a Nakamoto Mfg factory in Oizumi, Gunma prefecture, on Oct. 16. Japan is battling serious labour shortages, but moves to bring in more migrant workers are raising the hackles of conservatives worried about mass immigration. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)

The number of foreign labourers in Japan has doubled since the year 2000, with 1.3 million people now mostly working in sectors such as retail, hospitality, agriculture and manufacturing, or toiling away on construction projects like infrastructure for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

But the coming influx is hardly representative of a commitment to more diversity.

The legislation creates two new categories of visas.

The first, for unskilled workers, requires the worker to leave after a maximum of five years and does not permit the entry of any family members.

The second, aimed at those filling higher-tech jobs, allows families to tag along and provides a potential path to citizenship — but only after a decade, and provided they commit no crimes.

Japan started importing labourers in the early 1990s, drawing initially from the Japanese diaspora in places like Brazil and Peru, and more recently turning to other Southeast Asian nations like Vietnam for its growing needs.

The practice was couched as a "Technical Intern Training Program," with the purported goal of teaching workers skills that they could use back in their home countries. The reality has always been that most end up filling the kind of jobs that no one else wants, from dishwashing, to convenience store clerks, to the dangerous work of decontaminating the site of the Fukushima reactor disaster.

Most of the jobs pay poorly, and the foreign nationals complain of abuse and harassment.

Brazilian children attend a Portuguese school in Oizumi, Japan, in October. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images)

During the debate in parliament, stats were tabled that show that some 7,000 of the current 270,000 "interns" fled the country in 2017. And in the two years starting in 2015, 69 foreign trainees died, some crushed by forklifts, some falling or drowning in industrial accidents, and others committing suicide by means such as drinking pesticide or stepping in front of trains.

Unions have been trying to recruit the workers and offer them more protection, but face stiff opposition from employers who often leave the hiring, firing and payments to subcontractors. In one recent example, a Sharp factory in Mie Prefecture went from having 3,000 foreign labourers making smartphone displays to just 100 in the course of a few weeks. All the workers were on two-month contracts and reported to 10 different temp firms.

The Japanese public seems to be coming around to the idea that the country needs outside help, with 48 per cent expressing support for more foreign workers in a recent opinion poll, versus 42 per cent against.

But Abe has a tough sales job ahead of him, especially given the fact that his government has provided few details of how it plans to select, process and house the new, temporary immigrants.

The same survey found that 73 per cent of respondents thought his legislation should be delayed for more debate.

One-on-one with Justin Trudeau

Rosemary Barton sits down for an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Crafting questions for the prime minister (this one or any one) is not an easy business.

It's not that you don't have enough things to ask. It's that you inevitably have too many.

I like to ask for advice and use the hive mind of the parliamentary bureau for ideas. So after five days of that (yes, five days), a whiteboard, and the brutal exercise of cutting out things that didn't quite meet the bar, I was left with four pages of questions.

When I sat down with Justin Trudeau yesterday, I think I left out three things from that final list. And then added some follow-ups as we went along.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during a sit-down interview with Rosemary Barton in Montreal on Thursday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

I'm sharing all of this only because you will see the best parts of that interview. The parts where we think the Prime Minister has revealed something about his way of thinking, his style of leadership, or how he does politics.

Trudeau weighs in on everything from Saudi Arabia, to Canada meeting its Paris targets, to that much-criticized trip to India.

I wouldn't say he's always forthcoming, but I would say I did my best to get him there.

As we edge nearer to the election I'll try to sit down with all the leaders to explore some of the same issues to give you some insight into who they are, how they view this country and what they are trying to do.

We figure that knowing them better will help you understand why they believe in what they do.

The Trudeau interview airs Sunday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sports fancy socks during his interview with Rosemary Barton. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

And to be honest, the only thing that threw me off at the beginning of the interview was how bright the prime minister's socks were. It may be why he chooses them. Maybe.

- Rosemary Barton

  • WATCH: The interview with Justin Trudeau Sunday night on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

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Trump and Mueller

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media at the White House Friday morning before boarding Marine One to depart for Kansas and the 2018 Project Safe Neighborhoods National Conference. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Today promises to be a big day in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

The special counsel has to file a sentencing recommendation for Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former lawyer-turned-cooperating-witness, by late afternoon to meet a court deadline.

His team is also expected to submit its brief on exactly why a similar deal with Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, fell apart, spelling out the things they accuse him of lying about.

But the most accurate barometer on the coming Mueller storm remains the U.S. president himself.

Trump was in a lather late last night, sending out three tweets about the investigation, culminating with an all-caps classic: "FAKE NEWS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!"

Starting at 7 a.m. this morning, he was right back at it, posting a string of seven Mueller-related complaints, interspersed with boast about trade negotiations with China, and a nod about the 77th anniversary of the Pearl Harbour attack.

For those keeping score at home, those tweets mark the 215th and 216th time that Trump has used the phrase "Witch Hunt" on social media or in public since the spring of 2016.

"No Collusion!" — another favourite — has been used 205 times.

Robert Mueller's name  has only been mentioned 139 times thus far. It just feels like a lot more.

Too cool to miss ... 

David Saint-Jacques' launch into space, as seen from the International Space Station.

Quote of the moment

"We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way he talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money. We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation."

- Victorina Morales, an undocumented housekeeper from Guatemala who has worked at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey for five years — making the president's bed and cleaning his toilet — tells the New York Times that she has been deeply hurt by his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he arrives at Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, N.J., on July 16, 2017. (AFP/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Ebola spreads to major Congo city (CBC)
  • U.S. rolls back coal rule despite climate change warnings (CNN)
  • Eiffel Tower to be closed as Paris braces for more 'yellow vest' protests (CBC)
  • Migrant rescue ship Aquarius ends operations in Mediterranean (Telegraph)
  • OPEC, Russia close to slashing oil output despite U.S. pressure (Reuters)
  • Road accident deaths swell to 1.5 million a year: WHO report (Agence France Presse)
  • Chinese spacecraft launches for historic landing on far side of moon (CBC)
  • Ex-science teachers busted at Breaking-Bad style drug lab in Russia (Moscow Times)

Today in history

Dec. 7, 1987: Kim Mitchell wins a Juno for his 1986 album

Kim Mitchell shows up on Midday, dressed in his finest ballcap, to explain how surprised he was that his Shakin' Like a Human Being beat out discs by Corey Hart and Bryan Adams to win best album. (Tellingly, he doesn't mention Luba and Gowan, who were also nominated.) Other Juno winners that year included Frozen Ghost, Prairie Oyster and David Foster. And Rita MacNeil, who released her first album in 1975, won "most promising female vocalist."

Kim Mitchell wins a Juno for his 1986 album

35 years ago
Duration 5:51
Kim Mitchell is in the Midday studio soon after his Juno Award win for Best Album.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.