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We will fight for government panel's decision on regional minimum wage targets

Statement by ODAGAWA Yoshikazu, Secretary General of the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)
August 9, 2010

The Central Minimum Wages Council today submitted to the Health, Labor and Welfare Minister regional minimum wage targets for FY 2010.(*) The Council advises every prefecture to raise the minimum wage by 10 yen per hour. For prefectures where the Central Council concludes that the minimum wage is lower than the level of livelihood protection benefits, the recommendation says that priority should be given to eliminating the gap and that the regions with a wide gap should extend the time-limit for eliminating the gap for one year.

(*) In the absence of a national minimum wage, the minimum wage is set in each prefecture. The Central Council divides the 47 prefectures into four groups: A, B, C, and D.

As the result, the national average of recommended increases in the minimum wages was 15 yen for this fiscal year. For the first time since the minimum wage began to be expressed as hourly wage, prefectures in the lowest of the four groups got an increase of more than 10 yen. This reflects the great effort made by various federations and regional union organizations to achieve a substantial minimum wage increase. However, the Central Council’s recommendation is far from our demand that the minimum wage should be set at least 1,000 yen per hour so that we can help to eliminate working poor, make progress toward equal treatment, and achieve economic recovery through encouraging people to spend money. We must say that the present Minimum Wage Law has its limit.

This year’s Central Council deliberation came after the government, business and labor (Rengo) leaders agreed to “secure a national minimum wage of 800 yen per hour at the earliest possible time and aim to raise it to the national average of 1,000 yen by paying attention to the economic situation” at the employment strategy dialogue. In the Central Council deliberation, labor insisted that the national average of minimum wages should be raised to 800 yen per hour in the next three years. The employers’ representatives sought to gut the tripartite agreement by repeatedly arguing that economic recovery is too slow among small- and medium-sized businesses, that the practical application of government policy in support of smaller businesses is in delay, and that a nominal growth of 3 percent and a real growth of 2 percent have not been achieved. Thus, they put up resistance to the Central Council’s recommendation. This is why the Council deliberation was unusually protracted. Finally, a proposal by members representing public interests was accepted as mentioned above.

The position of members representing employers lacks the viewpoint that, at a time when the Cabinet Office is projecting an economic growth of 2.6 percent in real terms, which is higher than the prerequisite to the tripartite agreement and is calling for the deflationary economy with growth rate lower than nominal economic growth, improvement in employment and household incomes, including a minimum wage increase, are essential for smaller businesses to feel economic recovery. They also disregard the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s data showing that 6,410,000 people were counted as “working poor” in 2007 and the fact that there are many low-income households that earn less than Livelihood Assistance benefit payments as presented at the government study group on national minimum. Continuing to hold the minimum wage very low will worsen the financial positions of small- and micro-businesses, which are dependent on the domestic market and will aggravate poverty and economic inequalities and deepen social uncertainties. We urge employers to be aware of their social responsibility.

Zenroren began its campaign for a minimum wage increase for this year with a signature collection and petitions to the Diet during the Spring Struggle so that raising the minimum wage would be taken up in the Diet. It called for united action by public- and private-sector workers. Our federations and regional organizations carried out signature collection, took to the streets, and submitted our opinion to the regional Minimum Wage Council. In the Tohoku and Kyushu regions as well as Shizuoka, unions also organized such events like “Experiencing life with a minimum wage,” and studying methods for “Estimating the minimum cost of living using the livelihood protection benefits, and others focusing on the livelihoods assistance.

Zenroren member unions will launch their actions to press regional councils to raise their respective minimum wage with a conviction that our movement has been effective in achieving the modest progress in the latest recommendation so that we can overcome the present weaknesses of the recommendation and win a substantial increase in the regional minimum wages. We call on member unions to do their utmost in a climax of this struggle. We demand that the government implement what the Central Council advises, by increasing assistance to small- and medium-sized businesses in smoothly raising wages, which are too low at present, and by taking necessary steps toward improving wages from the bottom in government contracts, including outsourcing of business and procurement.

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