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Zenroren and Spring Struggle Joint Committee hold May 19 central action demanding economic recovery with bottom-up measures

A sharp minimum wage increase, an overhaul of the law governing temporary agency workers and the elimination of working poor in the public sector were the main slogans in a day of action organized on May 19 by the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) and the National Spring Struggle Joint Committee. About 1,500 workers took part in the action, braving occasional rain to call for a minimum wage increase and an economic recovery through bottom-up improvements in living standards.

Participants in front of the Labor Ministry call for minimum wage increase as the best medicine for economic recovery

It was the first day of action demanding a minimum wage increase. At noon, workers assembled in front of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to call for the establishment of a national minimum wage system and a substantial increase in the minimum wage.

In his speech on behalf of the National Spring Struggle Joint Committee, ITO Jun'ichi (Executive member) pointed out that Japan is the only industrialized country that is not experiencing economic growth because domestic demand has been shrinking due to sweeping wage and job cuts. He called on participants to join forces to win the revision of the Worker Dispatch Law and a substantial minimum wage increase as well as the establishment of the national uniform minimum wage system.

Zenroren Executive Committee member ITO Keiichi gave the report on the present situation relating to immediate labor issues. He pointed out that the proposed bill to revise the Worker Dispatch Law has loopholes and warned against the move to lift the ban on the use of temporary agency workers in medical services on the pretext that this area needs skilled professional workers.

Referring to the issue of the minimum wage, Ito stressed that even some of the large corporate executives and economists admit the need to raise the minimum wage and said, "A minimum wage increase will help people spend more and lead to revitalizing the economy, which will consequently make corporations more profitable." He called for an increase in the struggle in workplaces and in local communities.

Representatives of various organizations expressed their determination.

A participant from the National Union of General Workers-Zenroren said, "A part-time worker who had been working for a wage lower than the minimum wage level at a tofu maker, was denied the renewal of his contract. This must be condemned publicly. Large corporations should use a part of their huge internal reserves to pay more to small- and medium-sized suppliers so that the minimum wage will be raised to at least 1,000 yen.

A worker from the National Federation of Consumers' Cooperatives Workers' Unions (SEIKYOROREN) said, "In our meetings with members of the Diet, we heard them say securing jobs must come before raising the minimum wage. We insist that economic recovery can only be achieved by raising the minimum wage for the betterment of livelihoods.

A worker from the All-Japan Metal and Information Machinery Workers' Unions (JMIU) Isuzu Motors branch said, "In December 2008, I lost my job as a fixed-term contract worker. I had a sit-in protest in front of the Diet. Members of the Diet would not listen to me. I have three children. Diet members and government officials should listen to the complaints of persons like me and work in the public's interests."

Central rally

In the afternoon, participants in the day of action held a rally at Hibiya Amphitheater holding banners with the demands and union flags. Petition forms with signatures bearing the demands for a minimum wage of at least 1,000 yen, for the revision of the Worker Dispatch Law and for the abolition of the discriminatory health insurance system for the elderly aged 75 and older were piled up in a corner of the stage.

Zenroren President DAIKOKU Sakuji spoke on behalf the National Spring Struggle Joint Committee. He said, "Economic recovery can only be achieved through a bottom-up of wages, a minimum wage increase, and financial support for the small- and medium-sized businesses."

Japanese Communist Party Secretariat head ICHIDA Tadayoshi spoke in solidarity with workers. He said, "Let us fight to get employment rules established as in many other countries, including revision of the Worker Dispatch Law that will pave the way for many temporary agency workers to be employed as regular full-time workers."

Zenroren Secretary General ODAGAWA Yoshikazu, who is the secretary general of the National Spring Struggle Joint Committee, gave the report on the current situation. He said, "Many unions have won the same level of wage increase as last year as a result of the tenacious struggles." He also emphasized the important of further increasing the struggle with the House of Councilors election in mind, focusing on the issues of minimum wage, revision of the Worker Dispatch Law. "Intensifying our struggle is the key to winning favorable change in the situation," he said.

Representatives of various organizations expressed their determination.

The Japan Federation of Prefectural and Municipal Workers' Unions (JICHIROREN): "What the government is promoting as the way to give local governments more powers allows the national government to throw off its responsibility for maintaining the minimum standards to local governments."

The Shizuoka Prefectural Federation of Trade Unions (Shizuoka Kenpyo): "We conducted a cost of living survey in order to know the actual living conditions. We now find the urgent need to raise the amount of the minimum wage."

The National Federation of Consumers' Cooperatives Workers' Unions (SEIKYOROREN): "We are determined to achieve a minimum wage higher than the welfare assistance benefits."

After the rally, the participants marched in demonstration through the government office district to the Diet.

Earlier in the day, union activists participated in an early morning street campaign at five locations in Tokyo to call for a minimum wage increase and revision of the Worker Dispatch Law.

At the end of the day of action, participants braved strong rain to carry out a sit-in demanding revision of the Worker Dispatch Law. Participants voiced their concerns that the government-sponsored bill will allow the use of temporary agency workers in manufacturing if they are hired on a permanent basis.

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