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Zoom Up / Foreign housekeepers to the rescue?

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Annalyn Ledesma, 25, receives job training at the Duskin School in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, on April 21. An instructor tells her: “Roll up the ends of your rubber gloves so liquid doesn’t drip off when you work on something overhead. Wipe the handles of the kitchen cabinets very carefully, as they are touched by dirty hands.” Foreign workers, who were hired by certified recipient companies, are required to have at least one year of relevant job experience in their countries and be able to speak Japanese at daily conversation levels.

By Kota Kawasaki and Mitsuru Tamura / Yomiuri Shimbun PhotographersAccepting people from other countries to help Japanese working women and others do housework began this spring, enabled by relaxing regulations in three national strategic special zones — Kanagawa Prefecture, the city of Osaka and Tokyo.

To realize “a society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged,” which is one of the key policies of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the project is aimed at encouraging more Japanese women to take jobs outside the home.

Six companies, including a temporary staffing firm, have already been certified as recipients of such foreign workers.

Duskin Co., a housecleaning service operator based in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, accepted eight Philippine women as new employees in April.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Amila Lebres, 34, right, having worn a suit while commuting to work, puts on an apron under the instruction of a senior colleague in Kanagawa Prefecture on March 28. They visited the house of a person who was considering receiving the housekeeping services.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Carlota Takahashi, 38, front, and other housekeepers from the Philippines smile upon their arrival at Kansai Airport on April 16. Japanese staff of their recipient company warmly welcomed them with a Philippine national flag and a large banner that read, “Welcome to Japan.”

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Abueg Beligon, 34, learns Japanese words in her dormitory room using cards she made herself in Kanagawa Prefecture on March 29. For foreign workers who have worked as housekeepers in their home countries, the first hurdle in Japan is growing accustomed to Japanese culture.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Foreign workers enjoy a meal in a dormitory for employees, which was prepared by Pasona Inc., a temporary staffing company, in Kanagawa Prefecture on March 29. The dormitory, comprising three bedrooms, a living room and an eat-in kitchen, is equipped with air conditioners and Wi-Fi. One of the foreign staff, who once worked in Macau as a live-in housekeeper, said, “It’s like a dream that I can have free private time every day.”

The company’s housework-assistance service has steadily grown since it began in 1989, but in recent years, the company has faced difficulty securing workers. The company plans to accept more foreign workers.

In job-training sessions after the foreign workers’ arrival in Japan, the company’s staff instructed them on how to pronounce phrases in Japanese. For example, the foreign workers were taught to say, “Dozo, okizukai nasaranaide kudasai” (Please don’t go to such trouble for me).

It is said that teaching foreign staff how to provide Japanese-style customer service is more difficult than training them to perform the fundamental duties of housekeeping, such as cleaning a house.

“Even if customers offer you a cup of tea, you must politely decline,” an instructor told the foreign workers. “You must not use the bathroom in a customer’s house, so you must go to the bathroom before visiting the house.”

Instructors teach the foreign workers, in detail, about the Japanese language and customs.

Although employment conditions and training are hard, if such foreign workers are hired as regular employees, they can join the employee pension schemes of the recipient companies. Their salaries can also rise to the same level as those of Japanese employees, or higher in some cases.

“I’ll do my best to give a good education to my children, whom I left in the Philippines,” said Malou Buenaventura, 35, who began working in customers’ houses with Japanese staff in May.

In Japan, a shrinkage of the working population is feared. Can foreign workers become the nation’s saviors?

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