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Brazilian workers in Japan return home

Amid global economic turmoil, Brazilians find jobs hard to come by in Japan.

 

On Dec. 1, 2008, the Hashimotos learned that they were being laid off from the Sumitomo factory, which produces electronics in the city of Shiga-Ken, near Nagoya. They weren't alone: The same factory fired 400 other Brazilians.

“We had to leave it all behind and come back because everything is so expensive there,” said Sheila, who is now back living with her family in Sao Paulo.

Japan’s gross domestic product fell 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, the biggest drop since the oil crisis in 1974. “The factories are closing their doors and the economy is doing poorly,” said Terushiko Sakura, director of CIATE. Sakura pointed to the reduction in Japanese exports, particularly in the automobile and electronics sectors.

The problem is serious enough that the Japanese government recently created an emergency plan to help the dekasseguis return to Brazil, and to help those who decide to stay in the country find jobs in other areas, Sakura said.

“I can’t specify an exact number of how many Brazilians have lost their jobs in Japan, but I can tell you the job offers in the agency have dropped exponentially,” he said. Foreign workers are the most affected by unemployment, said Sakura, because the government is focused on protecting the Japanese-born.

According to Japan Airlines, the passenger flow from Japan to Brazil increased more than 30 percent in the final months of 2008 compared with the same period in 2007.

Aboard one of those flights was 53-year-old Alice Makishi, who is now working as a vendor. She returned to Brazil with her husband and 10-year-old son after nine months at a food manufacturer in Japan. “We were a bit deluded to think that it was going to be a paradise. It wasn’t,” she said. “One of my colleagues in the factory, who has been working there for 18 years now, had said she’d never seen such a crisis.”

A female worker from a factory in Japan can make up to 250,000 yen (a little more than $2,500) a month, including overtime, while a man could make 350,000, according to Vanessa Fugita, 31, who worked at a carburetor factory for seven years. Now, hourly wages have fallen about 20 percent, and overtime has been slashed. Fugita came to Brazil to visit relatives, and is among the few heading back to Japan.

“I’ll take the risk and live off my savings for a while in Japan,” she said.

The Hashimotos have been back in Brazil since Jan. 22. In Japan, the three of them used to work eight-hour days, plus three hours of overtime, even on Saturdays and Sundays.

“But in the middle of October, they cut our hours and we couldn’t do overtime anymore,” Sheila said. “With our regular salary, we were barely paying our bills and it was only enough to buy groceries.” She noted that the factory officials apologized profusely for firing so many people all at once, in a “very Japanese manner.”

Now the Hashimotos are making new plans. “We are taking courses and looking for jobs, but we don’t know what we are going to do yet,” Sheila said.

But the outlook in Brazil isn't bright. Beginning late last year, the global economic crisis began to percolate through many parts of Brazil's economy and, according to the Ministry of Labor, there have been nearly 800,000 layoffs since November.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/brazil/090302/brazilian-workers-japan-return-home