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RENGO Holds Top-Level Meeting with Government
On January 18 RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) held a top-level meeting with the government at the Kantei (Prime Minister's Office) in Tokyo.
At the start, RENGO President Nobuaki Koga addressed the participants, saying, "The current social instability is serious. The government and ruling party [Democratic Party of Japan] must pull together to overcome this difficult situation. Furthermore, we urge the government and ruling party to make the utmost efforts to execute the supplementary budget for reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake and to enact bills relating to the integrated reform of social security and taxation and employment and labour."
In the top-level meeting, RENGO stated its views and received explanations from relevant ministers on such topics as the integrated reform of social security and taxation, the revised Worker Dispatch Act, legislation on fixed-term employment contracts, legislation on the stabilization of employment for elderly persons, and the bill to revise the Local Public Service Act, including the right of fire service personnel to organize.
RENGO intends to hold these top-level meetings regularly and to strengthen its solidarity with the government and DPJ toward the enactment of important bills.

RENGO: President Nobuaki Koga, Deputy President Hideaki Tokunaga, Deputy President Naomi Okamoto, Vice-President Tomoyasu Kato, General Secretary Hiroyuki Nagumo
Government: Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda; Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada; Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura; Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Yoko Komiyama; Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano; Minister of Finance Jun Azumi; Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Tatsuo Kawabata; Minister of State for National Policy Motohisa Furukawa
Democratic Party of Japan: Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi, Acting Secretary General Shinji Tarutoko
2012 Spring Struggle Gets Underway
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).

RENGO's Demands
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.

Management's Response
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.

Polarized Discussions
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's Criticism
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.
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