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HOME  > Past issues  > 2021 January 20 - 26  > Substantial wage hike in 2021 ‘shunto’ wage talks important especially amid pandemic
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2021 January 20 - 26 [LABOR]

Substantial wage hike in 2021 ‘shunto’ wage talks important especially amid pandemic

January 26, 2021

Akahata editorial (excerpts)

Under the pandemic situation, unions, with the power of unity, have played a major role as a bulwark of the general public in protecting their lives, livelihoods, and jobs.

For example, the All-Japan Federation of Automobile Transport Workers' Unions (Jiko-soren/ATU) succeeded in protecting workers at a taxi company in Tokyo from the company’s forcible retirement attempt. The Japan Federation of Prefectural and Municipal Workers' Unions (Jichiroren) won a special paid leave system for non-regular workers at a municipal school lunch center in Hyogo Prefecture who were ordered to be on standby without pay during corona-triggered school closures. The Japan Federation of Medical Workers' Unions (Iroren) in Tokyo successfully reversed a university hospital’s plan to not provide summer bonuses to hospital workers. In addition, many unions together with civil organizations worked to support people struggling to survive the pandemic by such means as offering free counselling services to those who lost jobs and carrying out “food bank” projects throughout Japan.

In the 2021 ‘shunto’ spring wage offensive, the most important thing is the fight against a reduction in pay, the destruction of the job market, and the imposition of excessively long working hours and heavy workloads.

The Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) on January 19 published an annual report by its Management/Labor Policy Committee, known as the business circles’ guideline for the annual “shunto” spring wage talks. In the report, Keidanren used the pandemic situation as an excuse to bulldoze through a “work-style reform” ostensibly to attain a higher productivity.

Taking advantage of an increase in the number of workers working from home due to the pandemic, Keidanren seeks to abolish work hour rules and instead establish a pay system exclusively based on job evaluations which will impose on workers excessively long working hours and heavy workloads. With the introduction of a “job-based employment system”, Japan’s largest business lobby aims to implement a wage scheme based only on job and performance evaluations and a system that allows employers to unilaterally terminate employment contracts. Keidanren also calls for a system enabling workers to work side jobs in order to earn extra money to supplement their wages. However, under this system, workers may face the risk of death from overwork (karoshi) and employers can evade their responsibility to protect workers’ health.

It is necessary to put a stop to Keidanren’s move to use the coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to promote neoliberal policies. The COVID-19 crisis has increased poverty and economic inequality as well as yet again shed light on the vulnerability of Japan’s socio-economic system. The need is to shift the current socio-economic system to a balanced one based on personal consumption and domestic demand without heavily relying on tourism and foreign demand.

The People’s Spring Struggle Joint Committee, consisting of the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren) and independent unions, calls for the use of corporate internal reserves because of the need to overcome the corona crisis. In this year’s “shunto” wage talks, it will demand a substantial wage hike, the realization of a nationwide uniform minimum wage of 1,500 yen, and measures to ensure employment security. To establish a society where everyone can live a decent life with an 8-hour workday is the urgent task that needs to be taken in relation to building an economy which shows resilience in crises situations.

In FY 2019, large corporations with capital of more than one billion yen increased their internal reserves by 10 trillion yen from the previous year to 459 trillion yen, marking a record high for 12 years in a row. The distribution of just a portion of the huge internal reserves to the society at large is urgently required.

Past related article:
> Zenroren activists exchange experiences of union’s vital role under pandemic [January 15, 2021]

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