Statement on revision of the minimum wage
the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)
October 1, 2021
The minimum wage is going to be revised on October 1 in many prefectures.
Last year, with the coronavirus pandemic posing adverse impact on the nation’s economy and putting many small- and medium-sized businesses in an extremely difficult situation, the government’s Central Minimum Wage Council did not indicate a benchmark by saying that the “current levels should be maintained” on the grounds that top priority should be given to maintaining jobs.
Although the pandemic is still sweeping this year through the country, the Central Minimum Wage Council proposed raising the average hourly minimum wage by a record 28 yen to 930 yen for all regions. The panel says, “The social need now is to create a virtuous cycle of the economy by ensuring that disposable income grows constantly and that workers’ future life is secured, which will encourage people to spend more, and to improve the treatment of contingent workers.”
The National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) in the July 16 statement by its secretary-general said “[T]he benchmark is far short of our demand that the minimum wage be 1,500 yen (about 14 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.” It also said, “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.”
Following the Central Minimum Wage Council’s recommendation, bitter discussions took place at the regional minimum wage councils between labor urging a raise bigger than the recommendation and the business sector insisting on no increase.
Zenroren and its local organizations have called for a sharp minimum wage increase and for inequalities to be reduced. Thanks to efforts by labor members of regional minimum wage councils, the regional hourly minimum wage was increased by 4 more yen in Shimane prefecture, 2 more yen in Akita and Oita prefectures, and 1 more yen in Aomori, Yamagata, Tottori, and Saga prefectures. These prefectures are in the lowest D ranking group. This shows that these raises reflect the pressing need to raise the minimum wage and redress the regional disparities.
This year’s recommended benchmark amount is the largest since the recommendation system began in 1978. However, the regional difference is the largest between the highest prefecture (Tokyo’s 1,041 yen) and the lowest prefecture (820 yen) remains unchanged from last year (221 yen)
Zenroren recently conducted a nationwide cost-of-living survey and found that the current minimum wage levels do not guarantee the constitutional right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living. It confirmed that there is no regional differences in the cost-of-living. Based on the findings, we have demanded the hourly minimum wage be raised to at least 1,500 yen so that everyone can live a decent life by working eight hours a day. This is the pressing demand of those workers who are unable to earn a living without work and is a widening social consensus.
It is clear that the present system of determining the minimum wage by dividing the prefectures into regional groups has reached the limit. The lowest-paying jobs are hotbeds for the concentration of population, depopulation, aging, economic prostration in local areas and for low wages. At its founding in 1989, Zenroren adopted the action program calling for “the establishment of a nationwide uniform minimum wage system.” The call has gained wider social support. The present minimum wage system is also regarded as impediment to fair business competition. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry should sincerely take our criticism into account.
The Civil Alliance for Peace and Constitutionalism in September signed a policy agreement with the opposition Constitutional Democratic, Japanese Communist, Social Democratic, and Reiwa Shinsengumi parties in preparation for the upcoming House of Representatives election. All these parties put forward the election promise of raising the minimum wage to 1,500 yen.
Zenroren is determined to do more to help the movement demanding the establishment of a uniform national minimum wage system and an hourly minimum wage of at least 1,500 yen while calling for the government to shift away from the economic policy serving the best interest of the business sector and large corporations that was pursued by the previous administrations led by prime ministers Abe Shinzo and Suga Yoshihide, to focus on lifting the workers’ livelihoods from bottom up in the interest of the people, and to increase support to small- and medium-sized businesses.