Pay raise is urgent all the more because of the pandemic
Zenroren and Joint Committee for Spring Struggle encircle Japan Business Federation (Keidanren)
The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) and the Joint Committee for the People’s Spring Struggle, and the Tokyo Joint Committee for the Spring Struggle on January 15 organized a day of action to kick off the 2021 labor-management talks focusing on wages, known as the People’s Spring Struggle, by encircling the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, central Tokyo. About 300 people took part in the action demanding that the large corporations use a part of their 459 trillion yen (about 4 trillion US dollars) in internal reserves to increase workers’ wages, establish a national minimum wage of at 1,500 yen (about 14 US dollars) or more, and promise job security.
Zenroren President Obata Masako said: “The pandemic is adversely impacting contingent workers and women. Zenroren worked with the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (JTUC-Rengo) and the National Trade Union Council (Zenrokyo) to hold a year-end and New Year labor consultation service” for needy people. She emphasized that “large corporations are amassing even greater amounts of internal reserves. Pay raise to ensure that everyone can earn a living wage and a minimum wage increase are urgently needed.”
Kasase Ryuji, the secretary general of the Japan Metal Manufacturing, Information and Telecommunication Workers Union (JMITU), said, “The large corporations say that giving a base pay raise is difficult due to poor business performance. But they keep gaining internal reserves. We will fight on by going on strike.” Danbara Takaya, the general secretary of All Japan Teachers and Staff Union (ZEKYO) criticized Keidanren by saying “it aimed to target education for making profit as growth industry. We never allow public education be at the mercy of a market mechanism”.
Hirose Hajime, the secretary general of the All Japan Construction, Transport and General Unions (CGT-Kenkoro), said, “General contractor construction companies are continuing to accumulate their internal reserves but dump truck drivers are low paid for hard work to help people in areas affected by heavy snow despite the midst of the pandemic.”
Aoyama Hikaru, the general secretary of the Tokyo Federation of Medical Workers’ Unions said, “Healthcare professionals are working in harsh conditions but, due to a financial crunch of hospitals they are forced to endure cuts in bonuses. This situation will not change if the workers can put up with the ordeal. Let us raise our voices!”
Prior to action at Keidanren headquarters, the participants were assembled in front of the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry to call for a minimum wage increase and opposition to any easing of labor laws. They also marched in demonstration through the business district of Marunouchi near Tokyo Station, where many large corporations have their head offices.
Speech by Zenroren President Obata Masako at Day of Action at Keidanren
With a third wave of coronavirus infection raging, the employment situation is further worsening. There is a prevalent trend of declining wages. Contingent workers and women are particularly hard hit by the contradiction. The suicide rate is rising. We are at a critical juncture.
On December 29, 30 and January 2, Zenroren and the Joint Committee for the Spring Struggle joined forces with friends from unions affiliated with the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (JTUC-Rengo) and the National Trade Union Council (Zenrokyo) in responding to the call of the Labor Lawyers’ Association (Rodo-bengodan) to provide consultation services at Okubo Park in Shinjuku Ward (Tokyo) to help people solve their problems with employment and living conditions. I was present at the site on January 2 and had a chance to talk with Rengo President Kozu Rikio. I told him that we should make every effort to cooperate with each other.
A total of 344 people visited the consultation site over the three days. Seventy percent of the visitors were in their 20s to 50s, who are in the prime of their lives. Women accounted for 20 percent of the visitors.
I hear that a woman in her 70s told the counsellor that she had never imagined she would become so impoverished and that she had lost the purpose of living. But she changed her mind after talking with the counsellor and decided she should live by counting on the welfare program.
The neoliberal policies under Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s and Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s administrations have excessively emphasized the need for everyone to take full responsibility for their problems. It has neglected the constitutional right of all people to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.
A survey conducted by a group called “Single-Mothers Forum” shows that nearly half of the respondents said their working hours have decreased. More than 70 percent said that they were earning less or no income at all in addition to having their working hours decreased. Some respondents commented: “I take only one meal a day, and my children have two meals on holidays”, and “I no longer have breakfast. I take hot water from the water server in the office for breakfast.”
Foodbanks are available in many parts of the country for students. It is reported that as many as 200 students use foodbank services at once.
Commenting on this situation, Goto Michio, a professor emeritus at Tsuru University, says: “Even those students who do not look economically destitute are likely to face food-security problems if they lose part-time jobs for one or two months. This level of impoverishment has never been seen before in Japan.”
Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus infections, wages were already stagnant or going down for many years in Japan. In addition, many employers rapidly replaced permanent workers with contingent workers. With low paying jobs being predominant, 40 percent of households are without savings. Those people who had no money to spare were able to make ends meet if they have a job. But today, if they are paid less for a month, they would be unable to maintain their living. Such people constitute a large group today.
The workersis are paid wages to support his or her living. The present pandemic has revealed that the wages have fallen to levels that are insufficient to support people’s living. The policy of putting profit for the business sector above anything else by forcing workers to endure cutbacks has been debunked amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The worker is not a disposable means. Each worker has his or her important life. It is an employer’s duty to secure employees’ jobs and to pay them living wages. That’s not something impossible. Even in times of a pandemic, the large corporations are amassing growing amounts of internal reserves. The large corporations’ earnings have decreased by about 30 percent from the previous year instead of reporting losses. The listed companies secure over 20 trillion yen (190 billion US dollars) in surplus.
We strongly demand job security, a substantial wage increase with a bottom-up raise, and a nationwide minimum wage of at least 1,500 yen (about 14 US dollars).
Securing living wages for all workers is the only way toward ending the very difficult economic situation in times of a pandemic. We strongly urge Keidanren to ensure that anyone can earn living wages by working 8 hours a day.
We cannot overlook the government’s and business sector’s attempt to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to encourage what they call diverse and flexible work styles and freedom of choice in order to promote remote work, employment of workers based on type of jobs, side business and second business, expansion of application of the de facto working hours system and the discretionary work system, the merit-based wage system, the easing of the dismissal regulation, and the promotion of work out of employment to avoid regulations under labor laws.
The Joint Committee for the People’s Spring Struggle yesterday held a meeting of representatives from the industrial and local federations to finalize the committee’s plan for the 2021 People’s Spring Struggle under the main slogan: “For Spring Struggle for an equitable society without economic inequality, in which anyone working eight hours a day can enjoy a humane life.” It also calls on workers to join the union and raise their voices for change all the more because we are in the middle of a pandemic, instead of giving up on our demands because of the pandemic.
We fight to win a sizeable wage increase from the bottom-up so that everyone can live a decent life in dignity.
We fight to win employment rules that enable people to work in dignity by establishing job security and working time regulations.
We fight for public healthcare and social services that protect people’s lives and guarantee peaceful lives.
We fight to prevent the Constitution from being adversely revised and to let the Constitution guide.
We fight in unity by holding high these four demands in the 2021 People’s Spring Struggle.
I conclude my speech on behalf of the organizers by expressing the determination to join forces with you all.