The 2012 Spring Struggle for a Better Life got off to a start on January 25, 2012, with a meeting between the top leaders of RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) and Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation). The spring labour struggle, or shunto, is a nationwide campaign of workers and trade unions conducted throughout Japan every year to simultaneously negotiate wage raises and other working conditions; it has been an annual practice in labour-management relations in Japan for over half a century. Just before the start of all-out negotiations, it has become customary to have a top-level meeting between labour (RENGO) and management (Nippon Keidanren).
As its approach toward the 2012 shunto, RENGO decided on a "2012 spring struggle policy" at its Central Committee meeting on December 1 of last year. In the policy, RENGO decided to demand a 1% raise of the total annual wage as the standard, in addition to maintenance of the year-by-year basic wage hike determined by length of service. RENGO hopes that such a raise and maintenance of the annual hike will bring about a recovery of wages, which have been falling, and a correction of disparities. RENGO also decided to seek to comprehensively improve the working conditions of nonregular workers by demanding that they be offered the status of regular workers. Regarding the wages of part-time workers, RENGO decided to negotiate for an increase of 20–30 yen per hour.
Meanwhile, Nippon Keidanren issued a report on January 24 showing its stance toward the 2012 shunto. In the report, Nippon Keidanren expressed its negative position on labour's demands, arguing that costs must be reduced because of the severe business environment resulting from such factors as the damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake, the strong yen, and the financial and credit uncertainty in Europe. It declared that (1) a hike in the total annual wage is out of the question and the customary year-by-year basic wage hike decided by length of service should be postponed or frozen and (2) improvement of the working conditions of nonregular workers would decrease employment.
In the top-level meeting, Nippon Keidanren Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura emphasized that "priority should be given to employment rather than wage raises." In contrast, RENGO President Nobuaki Koga asserted the importance of wage hikes, stressing that "a proper distribution to the workers will lead to the expansion of domestic demand." Both sides are considered to share the same understanding of the current business environment, but in the polarized discussions the management side put priority on employment and the labour side stressed wage raises.
RENGO said critically, "This approach of the management side will not correct the distortions in distribution, will further expand disparities, and will not contribute to the expansion of domestic demand, so the economy will not be able to pull out of the deflationary situation." RENGO clearly stated that the average standard wage in 2010 was 7.1% less than in 1979. It emphasized that "in order to achieve economic recovery and switch to a vigorous society, it is necessary to raise total wages by 1% as the standard for the moment and then restore them step by step to that level."
Schedule for the 2012 Spring Struggle
From now on, each major enterprise-based union is scheduled to decide its own demands in cooperation with the industrial federation to which it is affiliated. Then each union will submit written demands to its company management and hold intensive negotiations during the period from the end of February to the beginning of March in the hope of reaching a final agreement around March 14.