We need minimum worker compensation that supports decent life

The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) on June 22 held a meeting to share experiences and views on issues concerning the minimum wage and wages for government/public service employees, attended by 61 union activists.

ITO Keiichi on behalf of the Zenroren Executive Committee made the report.

A participant from Gunma Prefecture said, "We for the first time have made representations to all local governments in the prefecture calling for fair labor contracts. We found that contingent workers account for more than 40 percent in eight municipalities. These contingent workers' wages are much lower than jobs offered at the Public Employment Office. In the course of the movement to demand improvement of contracts for public employees, we established a union. We need to further develop the movement for fair public employees' contract."

A participant from Kyoto Prefecture said, "The national average of the regional minimum wage is 668 yen, and this is too inadequate. A survey of living expenses shows that the minimum hourly wage needed to support workers' living standards is 1,112 yen. This amount is only slightly higher than the amount of income that needs public assistance. We are demanding a substantial increase in the minimum wage for us to make ends meet."

On the next day, about 800 workers participated in a day of action calling for a drastic increase in the minimum wage. They carried out an early morning street publicity campaign and held a sit-in in front of the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry, where the Ministryfs Central Minimum Wage Council discussing regional minimum wages.

A union youth section member said: "The unemployment remains high among young people. 48.1 percent of young workers are contingent workers, whose annual income is about 1.06 million yen (about 9 thousand dollars). The wage disparity is further widening between full-time workers and contingent workers."

A participant from Osaka said: "The staffing company Crystal is run by a non-bank money lending firm. While taking kickbacks, this company lends money to workers in need with high interest rates. They even come to workplaces to force borrowers to repay the debt. It is ten years since the enactment of the part-time employment law, but the gap between full-time workers and part-time workers are further widening. If we are to be able to work with pride under established rules for fair treatment of workers, a substantial increase in the minimum wage is indispensable."

[ZENROREN Editorial] (July 15, 2006)

Raise the Minimum Wage by revising the law

In late July, the government Central Minimum Wage Council will announce a standard for prefectural minimum wages. The struggle demanding improvement of the legal minimum wage is reaching a climax.

Last year, our struggle led the Council to recommend a raise of 2-3 yen, and we won a raise of 1-5 yen in most prefectures. Of course, this is too small for workers to live a decent life. In fact, the national average of the regional minimum wage (hourly) is 668 yen, which is about 30 percent of the average wages for full-time male workers, and more than 200 yen lower than the average part-time women workers' wages. A substantial raise of the minimum wage is an urgent need.

Criticism of the "growing poverty rate and the widening gap between the rich and the poor" caused by the government "structural reform" policy is developing steadily into voices calling for the national minimum standards to be established, including a national minimum wage that will enable workers and the general public to live a life without worries.

We have developed the tenacious struggle in a variety of forms - exposing the real state of low wage workers based on actual experiences, making statements at the Council's hearings, and struggling for a fair appointment of Council members. These efforts have caught media attention. As a result, some Council members have begun to make calls for "greater importance to be placed on living expenses," "consistency with social services," and "improvement of reference indices." Let us have confidence in this positive change that is taking place in the Council.

Meanwhile, we must note that employers are stubbornly opposing even a small raise of the regional minimum wages on the grounds that the "ability to pay" would not permit such a raise. Although it is expected that a bill to revise the minimum wage law to be introduced to the Ordinary Session of the Diet (parliament) next year, we must not stop demanding the raise.

Let us win a substantial increase in regional minimum wages and continue to work to develop a big movement to demand improvement of the minimum wage law and the establishment of a national uniform minimum wage system. The establishment of the National Minimum based on the minimum wage is the most reliable way to oppose the growing poverty rate and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Now is time to do this! In July an August, let us organize the struggle focusing on the Minimum Wage Council in order to be able to respond to the needs of the workers and people.