Industrial minimum wage system must not be abolished -- Akahata editorial, April 19 (excerpts)

Japan has no national minimum wage standards. Instead, it has systems of minimum wages for specific industries and prefectural minimum wage standards to be applied to all workers in the prefectures.

The average industrial minimum monthly wage is 132,000 yen, which is 10 percent higher than the average prefectural minimum wage at 116,000 yen. Financial circles have for many years been calling for the former to be tied to the latter, which is the lower. It is because they regard the former standards as obstacles to so-called "diversified employment" which is another word for an increase in such unstable jobs as those for part-timers and workers on contract with staffing services. What is more, financial circles demand that prefectural standards be lowered.

The industrial minimum wage standards are applied to 4.09 million core workers, over 80 percent of whom are in the metals industry including electronics and automobiles.

In support of financial circles' requests, a government panel on deregulation at the end of last year proposed a review of the industrial minimum wage standards, followed by a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry move toward abolishing the system.

The calls for abolishing the industrial minimum wage standards are not tenable. The present minimum standards are too low for a worker to maintain a family. In some cases they are lower than the amounts of livelihood protection. The low amounts arise from the fact that the minimum wage law ignores living costs which should be a primary factor in computing minimum wages.

Today when low-paying jobs are rapidly increasing, the minimum wage system has an increasing role to play in working as a brake on a wage cut race and guaranteeing minimum wages.

Major corporations in the metal industry restructured themselves and put many workers with unstable jobs on assembly lines, and forced wage cuts on them and unit cost cuts on subcontractors. The industrial minimum wage standards have an important role in maintaining minimum wages. The system should be strengthened to include a broad range of workers on contracts and staffing services.

It is irresponsible for the Koizumi Cabinet to lift employment regulations one by one, causing a rapid increase in unstable jobs. Now the government is going so far as to meet the financial circles' request to lower the minimum wage standards.

An exclusive move toward wage cuts will adversely affect the Japanese economy. A trial calculation in the electronics industry shows that wage cuts and the increase in unstable jobs have caused a loss of 18 trillion yen in salaries paid in a year.

The minimum wage in Japan ranks in the lowest group among the members of OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Part timers in Japan are paid only half the wages as regular workers, and this big gap is closely related to the low minimum wage standards.

European counties make it a general rule to treat full-time employees and part-time and other contingent workers more equally. To narrow the gap and achieve equal treatment, it is necessary to raise the minimum wage standards. The call is now to increase the minimum wage standards to ones which can sustain a decent living. (end)

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