Workers in rally call for minimum wage increase
The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) and the National People's Spring Struggle Joint Committee and the Tokyo Spring Struggle Joint Committee together held a rally on April 21 signaling the start of this year's intensive campaign for a minimum wage increase. ODAGAWA Yoshikazu, secretary general of the national joint committee, spoke on behalf of the organizers. ITO Keiichi, Zenroren Labor Research Bureau director, gave the keynote report.
Present situation surrounding the struggle for minimum wage increase
The following is the gist of the keynote report by ITO Keiich.
1. Where we stand in the struggle for minimum wage increase.
Our struggle demanding an increase in the minimum wage has made steady progress by overcoming various difficulties. One such attack is from the employers' association which insists that the minimum wage be frozen or event cut. The government interferes with our struggle by excluding Zenroren from participating in the government Minimum Wage Council as a labor member. While the national average of local minimum wages increased only 1 yen in 2004 from the previous year, we won an increase of more than 10 yen every year since three years ago. The national average of local minimum wage increase achieved over a period of the past three years is 40 yen. In Tokyo an increase of 72 yen has been achieved. This means that a worker who worked 150 hours a month would get an increase of 6,000 yen per month nationally, and 10,800 yen in Tokyo. Minimum wage increases have helped bottom up hourly wages and starting pays and benefited many contingent workers and other low-wage workers.
The importance of our movement is increasing not only for further advancing the movement to achieve workersf demands but also for the movement to establish the national minimum standards, which is a major national task. We have demanded that the minimum wage be raised to a decent level and that it be determined by taking into account the amounts of welfare assistance benefits, pension benefits, self-employed workersf and farmersf labor costs, family business costs, unit prices paid to subcontractors, and the minimum taxable income. Today, the government panel studying national minimum standards takes up what we have put forward. In our effort in support of the gright-to-live lawsuith against the adverse revision of the livelihood protection system, our movement has utilized the estimated minimum cost of living to prove how unjust it was for the government to abolish additional payments of welfare benefits for single-mother families and age-old welfare benefit recipients. In dealing with issues regarding small- and medium-sized businesses, we have made clear that the need now is to demand wages that can sustain workersf living and unit prices ensuring such wage levels. Unions are cooperating with business ownersf organizations on this issue, making representations to the relevant government agencies and taking other joint actions.
With creative campaigns by workers throughout the country being supported by public opinion, our demand that gthe minimum wage be at least 1,000 yenh is widely supported. This has paved the way for deliberations at central and local minimum wage councils to focus on the key issue: What is the decent level of the minimum wage?
The revised Minimum Wage Law, which came into effect in July 2008, adopted some of Zenroren opinions although it has consistently been excluded from the minimum wage council. This revised law says that the minimum wage should not be lower than welfare assistance benefits so that the workers can exercise the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living (as stipulated by the Japanese Constitution). In corporate Japan, there has been a fallacious view that auxiliary labor for the household economy needs no compensation for living expenses. (This means that the principle of compensating for living expenses cannot be applied to the minimum wage.) However, at least legally, this view has been rejected and practiced as such. One of the barriers to practicing the principle of equal pay has been brought down.
2. Why is the minimum wage necessary?
Since the second half of the 1990s, wages have continued to fall in Japan for a long time. Their declines have been sharper than any other industrialized country.
@The minimum wage was revised in October 2009 to 791 yen in Tokyo, 789 yen in Kanagawa, 735 yen in Saitama, 728 yen in Chiba, 630 yen in Tottori and Shimane, and 629 yen in Saga, Nagasaki, Miyazaki and Okinawa. Annual earnings of 1.1 million yen or 1.4 million yen are not sufficient for securing living expenses to enjoy the minimum standard of living. The problem is not just the inadequate amount of the minimum wage. We must also pay attention to the fact that regional inequalities are expanding. At present, the gap between the highest and the lowest has expanded to 162 yen. The expanding gap is inducing many people to find jobs in large cities. .
The workersf unified struggle for better wages has achieved certain gains despite tough conditions. However, an increasing number of unorganized workers, who are low paid and have job insecurity, are replacing regular full-time workers. This makes it more difficult for organized full-time workers to exert their power in labor talks. In order for their negotiating power to be enhanced, while making efforts to build up union organizations, of course, is essential, it is also necessary to develop a social movement to face up to declining wages, which makes it impossible for many low-paid workers to find an outlet to poverty. The struggle for a raise in the legal minimum wage is needed in order to improve the labor market standard of wages.
Demanding an increase in the minimum wage is not a mere struggle to rescue low-wage workers. We are now demanding that the minimum wage be raised to 1,000 yen. This will raise the basic wages to 155,000 yen per month. Achieving this demand will help in substantially increasing wages for many contingent workers, in raising levels of starting pay for high school graduates in both the private and public sectors, and in sustaining the decent wages for regular full-time workers. So, increasing the minimum wage struggle is needed for decent wages for everyone.
3. Raising the minimum wage is possible as well as necessary
In many countries the minimum wage system is a national uniform system. Only nine percent of those that adopt the minimum wage system established it by region. They are large federal countries. In most of industrialized countries, the mount of the minimum wage is 1,000 yen or more, or around 200,000 yen per month. In the United States, the minimum wage is relatively lower than many other countries, but the amount has been raised by law. In terms of the purchasing power parity, the hourly minimum wage in the United States would be equivalent to 949 yen. Clearly, Japan is ranked bottom among the industrialized countries.
In our discussions with lawmakers and representatives of economic organizations, we often hear them say, gWe do not deny that the minimum wage needs to be raised, but the first thing that should be done is to recover the economic growth. Without it, more people will be forced out of work.h We must debunk the lie in this argument if we are to win a substantial increase in the minimum wage in the upcoming negotiations. The need now is for us to persuade them to change their thinking to one of accepting the concept that raising the minimum wage is the way for economic recovery. In this respect, we emphasize the following three merits: (1) It will help improve the livelihoods of low-income earners and reduce poverty; (2) It will help encourage people to spend money and boost the economy; and (3) Expansion of personal consumption is the source of job creation.
Again, we need to emphasize that the minimum wage must be raised all the more because of the economic recession.
Recently, the demands we have put forward and the call for the minimum wage system to be improved are shared by various sectors. An increasing number of business operators, academics and economists understand why it is necessary to increase the minimum wage in present-day Japan. Based on these arguments and opinions, we should let society know the need to raise the minimum wage so that we can strengthen an extensive network calling for gthe minimum wage to be raised to at least 1,000 yen per hour and for a national uniform minimum wage system to be established.h We believe this is possible. We will work to bring together voices in support of a minimum wage increase and develop a stronger movement by further heightening public opinion in this direction.