Publication Details

Onuki, H. (2009). Care, social (Re)production and global labour migration: Japan’s ‘Special Gift’ toward ‘Innately Gifted’ Filipino Workers. New Political Economy, 14 (4), 489-516.


The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA)1 concluded by the Japanese and the Philippine governments on 9 September 2006, was described in the Japanese media as a ‘new step toward opening Japan’s labour market’ (Asahi Shimbun 2006b). Similar to Japan’s previous free trade treaties with Singapore, Mexico and Malaysia, the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) mainly concerns tariff reduction to facilitate bilateral exchanges of goods and services (Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) 2006).2 Yet, its distinctive feature is its facilitation of the movement of ‘natural persons’ – more specifically, the JPEPA allows for the Philippines to send up to 400 nurses and 600 ‘care’3 workers to Japan over a period of two years (Asahi Shimbin 2006a). Indeed, the government of Japan has signed a similar EPA with Indonesia, which includes the same clause, permitting Indonesian nurses and care workers to work in Japan (MOFA 2007b). Further, it is currently discussing the possibility for the reception of Thai care workers through the recently ratified EPA with Thailand (MOFA 2007a). Given Japan’s strict immigration regulation over the entry of the so-called ‘unskilled’ workers,4 such deregulations of the inflows of ‘foreign’ labour to Japan is remarkable, especially in terms of care workers whose professional status has not yet been verified in Japanese labour market (Son 2007; Takagi 2006). The proposed inflow of immigrant care workers to the Japanese labour market has accelerated heated debates over how to cope with the acute demand for elder care in the context of a historically unprecedented expansion of the aging population. These concerns are further expounded by a range of socioeconomic as well as demographic changes that have led to a dramatic shrinking of the Japanese labour force.



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