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What we have achieved in the 2010 struggle for a minimum wage increase

1. Recommendations by prefectural Minimum Wage Councils

(1) For more than a month since the Central Minimum Wage Council recommended the amount of a revised minimum wage on August 6, labor representatives and employers’ representatives continued an offensive and defensive battle at prefectural minimum wage councils. All 47 prefectures have put forward recommendations when the Okinawa council adopted its recommendation.

(2) Amid estrangement between labor representatives and employers’ representatives, the prefectural councils recommended a raise of 10-30 yen/h.

More than 800 yen/h was recommended in Tokyo (821 yen) and Kanagawa (818 yen), followed by Osaka (779 yen), Saitama (750 yen), Kyoto (749 yen), Aichi (745 yen), and Chiba (744 yen).

Eight prefectures (Saga, Nagasaki, Miyazaki, Kagoshima, Okinawa, Tottori, Shimane, and Kochi) recommended 642 yen.

The weighted average of recommended amounts was 730 yen, up 17 yen from last year.

In prefectures that were urged to fill the gap between the minimum wage and the welfare assistance benefits level, the amount was raised 30 yen/h in Tokyo, 29 yen in Kanagawa, 20 yen in Kyoto, 17 yen in Osaka, and 15 yen in Saitama. These were relatively substantial increases. Yet, the gap remained wide in Tokyo (40 yen) and Kanagawa (47 yen).

(3) Many prefectural councils have recommended an amount higher than the Central Minimum Wage Council recommendation, which serves as the main focus in the battle between labor and the employers. Only five prefectural councils recommended an amount lower than the central recommendation while two yen was added to the central recommendation in 24 prefectures, three yen in 13 prefectures and one yen in two prefectures. Four yen was added to the central recommendation in Yamagata Prefecture, five yen in Kyoto Prefecture, and six yen in Chiba Prefecture. It is true that the minimum wage councils discussed the very difficult financial positions of the small- and medium-sized businesses extensively, but many participants apparently were concerned that the minimum wage is too low at present and needs to be improved.

2. Zenroren’s initiative and assessment of the results

(1) Regional recommendations are far from meeting the needs of many workers and from the goal of strategic dialogue for jobs. They may even help to widen regional inequalities. Zenroren’s regional and industrial federations protested the recommendations. At the same time, however, Zenroren appreciates the 10-30 yen/h increase on last year in many prefectures as a result of the vigorous movement waged by many union members throughout the country.

(2) In the 2010 Spring Struggle, which was waged amid business recovery for many large corporations, unions in private business were forced to give up their demands even for a basic pay raise. The minimum wage councils did not have deliberations under favorable economic circumstances. Still, Zenroren strongly called for the elimination of working poor and a bottom-up wage increase particularly for low-paid workers, linking it to the demand for an increase in unit prices paid to suppliers. Zenroren made clear that the main objective of the movement is to force the minimum wage councils to express their political commitment to a bottom-up increase in the minimum wage. It organized several concerted actions, at the national and local levels, focusing on petitions to the Diet (Japanese parliament) and its members for a revision to the minimum wage law. Zenroren member federations, industrial as well as regional, took to the streets to collect signatures in support of the petition. They submitted opinions to prefectural minimum wage councils and had their representatives state their demands at minimum wage council sessions. Our unions also carried out struggles on the theoretical front by organizing such unique activities as an “experimental life on the minimum wage,” a study of calculation of the minimum cost of living using the public welfare assistance, and the estimation of the minimum cost of living in Northwest Japan, Shizuoka Prefecture, and Southwestern Japan.

(3) These efforts led by Zenroren have produced results: (i) the united struggle of Zenroren member federations from both the private and public sectors for wage increase contributed to winning an increase of 10-30 yen per hour, or 1,550-4,650 yen per month for full-time work; (ii) the demand for a minimum wage increase of at least 1,000 yen/h, which we have consistently demanded, has become a socially-supported goal agreed by government, labor and employers; (iii) the struggle helped increase moves of prefectures toward narrowing gaps between them; and (iv) the struggle has helped raise the level of awareness that there are no regional differences in the cost of living and that the need is to establish a national uniform minimum wage system that will help establish rules for fair trade.

(4) Needless to say, the minimum wage council recommendations are inadequate. It does not satisfy the workers’ needs to live humane lives, as Article 1 of the Labor Standards Law says. It does not provide levels at which everyone has “the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living” (Article 25 of the Constitution of Japan). In Tokyo, even if one works for 821 yen/h, that one will earn 127,000 yen for 155 hours of work. This level of income is too low that one has to seek public welfare assistance. We must increase our movement in order to ensure that the goal of 1,000 yen/h, which has been set forth based on the strategic dialogue for jobs, will be accepted by all members of society, including employers, as soon as possible, through examining the minimum cost of living for workers and through establishing the minimum wage with the public welfare assistance benefits as the standard.

(5) At the same time, while pushing for a substantial minimum wage increase, we will demand that the government take bold measures to help regional economies as well as small- and medium-sized businesses further develop. Minimum wage increase will be effective for encouraging consumers to spend money, but it is also indispensable to prevent small- and medium-sized enterprises from going bust before ripple effect of increasing personal spending is felt.
We need to remind employers to the Labor Standards Law stating: “The standards for working conditions fixed by this Law are mini-mum standards. Accordingly, parties to labour relations shall not reduce working conditions with these standards as an excuse and, instead, should endeavour to raise the working conditions” (Second paragraph of Article 1) and urge them never to use the raising of the minimum wage as scapegoat for unilaterally cutting working hours and jobs.
At the same time, we must demand that the government take concrete measures to help develop the economy and assist small- and medium-sized businesses. Recently, a panel of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry published measures in support of small- and medium-sized enterprises, including the establishment of an incentive funds system and consultation system, as part of the effort to help increase the minimum wage. Although these measures are short of meeting the needs, we will press the government to carry them out effectively. At the same time, we will urge the government to take necessary steps to increase the minimum wage at government contractors for various services and procurement and to increase taxes on large corporations and the capital gain tax to secure the necessary financial resources to increase spending on programs related to small- and medium-sized enterprises in a medium- and long-term plan to help small- and medium-sized businesses prosper.

3.Immediate tasks

(1) New regional minimum wages will go into effect in each prefecture from October 7 through November 5. In line with our autumn struggle plan, we will declare a struggle for “minimum wage increase and a pay raise to expand domestic demand on November 19, when we stage a day of action for decent work. We will use this day of action to let the public know the revised minimum wages and call for government measures to help develop small- and medium-sized businesses from local communities. .

(2) We will prepare to begin collecting signatures in January in support of the petition for a minimum wage increase and a revision to the minimum wage law. We demand that measures for small- and medium-sized businesses should while at the same time calling for a bottom-up increase in the minimum wage.

(3) New members of the Central and local Minimum Wage Councils will be appointed next year for a two-year term. We will prepare to name members to represent labor on the minimum wage councils.

(4) We will hold fast to the demand that the strategic dialogue for jobs call for a minimum wage of at least 1,000 yen/h. We will step up the movement to conclude labor agreement requiring the minimum wage to be 1,000 yen or more in each workplace.

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