Japan Eyes Foreign Workers for Olympics Amid Construction Glut

Japan may relax curbs on the entry of foreign blue-collar workers to cope with a labor shortage in the construction industry ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“We aim to have urgent measures in place by the end of the year on the use of foreign personnel,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters today in Tokyo. “The number of construction industry workers is falling,” and the market may tighten further ahead of the Olympics, he said.

Japan faces the worst labor shortage in the construction industry in nearly 20 years, in part due to rebuilding after a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. A shrinking labor pool due to population aging threatens to constrain Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s campaign to revive the economy, with foreigners currently making up only about 1 percent of the work force.

“Foreign workers are needed to boost potential economic growth,” said Masamichi Adachi, a senior economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Tokyo. “However, ordinary Japanese people are afraid that foreign workers will take their jobs and cause wages to fall.”

More than 25,000 construction workers will be needed nationwide to build the Olympic stadiums and arenas, according to a Tokyo government estimate.

The shortage in the construction industry is the worst since 1994, according to labor ministry data. Forty one percent of construction companies in a November survey said they didn’t have enough workers, while just 3 percent said reported a surplus.

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