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Statement:  We will fight on to win larger than benchmark for minimum wage increase with a view to establishing a uniform national minimum wage system

By Kurosawa Koichi
Secretary General
the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)
July16, 2021

The government’s Central Minimum Wage Council on July 16 submitted to the Health, Labor and Welfare Minister its recommendation that the minimum wage be increased by 28 yen (about 0.25 dollars) per hour for all prefectures. But the benchmark is far short of our demand for the minimum wage be 1,500 yen (about 14 US dollars) or higher per hour. In fact, it would leave the present regional gap that stands at 221 yen (about 2 dollars) intact. It’s really a matter of regret.

The employers’ representatives on the panel said, “Labor costs will increase if the minimum wage is increased, raising concern that it may trigger bankruptcies or business closures as well as employment adjustment and that such a consequence must be avoided. It’s off the mark to shift the blame onto the workers to justify the argument that the minimum wage should be held down. It is also a short-sighted view that goes against the regional economic development. Such an approach must not be tolerated. To begin with, it is the government that poses the stumbling block to economic activities in the time of coronavirus pandemic. The employers should seek support from the government.

Zenroren and its regional federations have conducted a nationwide minimum cost-of-living survey and found that one would need a monthly earning of more than 240,000 yen (about 2,200 dollars) per month, or 1,500 yen (about 14 dollars) per hour, if he or she is to make a humane living by working eight hours a day. In May, we petitioned the Diet with 160,000 signatures calling for a uniform national minimum wage system to be established. More than 110 cross-party members of the Diet endorsed the petition.

Calls are steadily spreading for the minimum wage to be raised and for the regional gaps to be closed. This year alone, the local assemblies of Shimane, Iwate, and Kyoto prefectures and Kitakyushu City have adopted resolutions calling for a uniform national minimum wage system to be established, for the regional gaps to be filled, and for support to small- and medium-sized businesses to be increased.

The current economic downturn already began before the pandemic. It is attributed mainly to falling personal spending due to falling wages and a consumption tax increase. Even in the time of pandemic, tax revenue for fiscal 2020 (ending in March 2021) was record high. It was notable that corporate tax revenue grew and that the large corporations are continuing to amass even greater internal reserves. Fair business transactions taking advantage of the tax revenue and companies’ internal reserves and increased support to small- and medium-sized businesses will make it possible to substantially increase the minimum wage and establish a uniform national minimum wage system. We believe that this way will help get out of the economic slump amid the coronavirus pandemic and serve as the basis of regional cyclical economies.

The minimum wage system has implications for all workers’ wages and livelihoods. It is an important government policy that decides the outcome of the Japanese economy. Its importance is greater in the pandemic. We demand that the government come forward with concrete measures to support small- and medium-sized businesses so that raising the minimum wage will become possible.

The regional minimum wage councils will soon begin discussing their respective decisions on the minimum wage. Last year, although the Central Minimum Wage Council did not make specific recommendation, 41 prefectures gave a raise.

Zenroren will make every effort with all union members by putting forward the needs of the workers on the ground to win a raise that is larger than the recommendation to serve overall wage increases and fill the regional gaps. We also make even greater efforts to win the establishment of a uniform national minimum wage system.

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