RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) conducted its third tally of wage hikes achieved in the 2015 spring labour struggle at the end of March. At that point in time, of unions that had submitted demands for a hike in the average wage (monthly wage) of union members and engaged in negotiations with management, settlements had been reached by 2,003 unions (1.954 million union members). This was an increase of 41 unions over the number that had reached settlements by the same date in 2014. Indeed, the number of unions reaching settlements by this time has been increasing year by year, suggesting that efforts to achieve early settlements are making headway. The average wage hike obtained by these unions was 6,944 yen (about $58.64), an increase of 2.33% over the average wage before the hike. These figures were up 449 yen (about $3.73) and 0.13 percentages points over the corresponding figures for the same point in time in 2014.
Of these unions, 1,216 unions with under 300 members had reached settlements, up 38 unions over the same point in time last year, suggesting that efforts to achieve early settlements are gaining ground among small and medium-sized unions as well, albeit gradually. The average wage hike achieved by these unions was 5,185 yen (about $43.04), an increase of 2.08% over the average wage before the hike. These figures were 375 yen (about $3.11) and 0.11 percentage points higher than the levels for the same point in time in 2014. However, the hike was 1,900 yen (about $15.77) less than the average increase of 7,084 yen (about $58.80; 2.35%) secured by unions with 300 or more members, which shows that wage levels are lower in companies with unions of less than 300 members compared with large corporations. At around 4,500 yen (about $37.35), the regular wage hike is lower in small and medium-sized companies as well. In large corporations with 1,000 or more employees, the regular wage hike for union members is estimated to be around 5,600 yen (about $46.48).
The negotiations of small and medium-sized unions will continue until around May, but they are expected to be difficult because in many cases companies delaying negotiations with unions have poor business performances. An important point for the Japanese economy from now on is to make sure that the results achieved so far spread to unorganized workers as well. For this purpose, in this year's struggle RENGO has been insisting that the wage increase levels achieved so far must have a ripple effect on the wage hikes of not only small and medium-sized unions but all workers, including unorganized workers. RENGO's aim is to push up wages for all workers and correct disparities.
The government also recognizes that wage hikes in small and medium-sized enterprises are crucial for making the economic recovery felt throughout the country. Therefore, following a similar meeting at the end of last year, a tripartite panel of government, labour (RENGO), and management representatives convened on April 2. The written agreement released by this panel stated that in order to encourage wage hikes in small and medium-sized enterprises, large corporations belonging to Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) would agree with subcontracting companies concerning their share of material price increases (rather than unilaterally forcing the burden on small and medium-sized firms) and make efforts to conduct reasonable business transactions.
Note: The regular wage hike is the seniority-based increase of individual wages (in other words, upward movement in the wage table). For example, an employee receiving the wage of a 34-year-old will, after a year, receive the wage of a 35-year-old. This seniority-based wage rises automatically. In addition to this regular wage hike, the base wages themselves may also be increased. In Japanese this is called the "base-up."
Wage Hikes Make Progress for Nonregular Workers Too
A total of 155 unions had reached settlements concerning hourly wage hikes for nonregular workers (mainly part-timers who have fewer working hours than regular employees and whose employment contracts are for short periods of two to three months). The average settlement saw the hourly wage rise by 17.24 yen (about $0.14) to 968.44 yen (about $8.04). This increase is 3 yen (about $0.02) more than the level achieved at the same point in time last year. The average hike for nonregular workers on a monthly wage (such as contract workers with the same working hours as regular employees and usually with employment contract periods of up to one year) was 3,756 yen (about $31.17), up 417 yen (about $3.46), or 1.85%, over the level achieved at the same point in time last year.
While the results of these labour-management negotiations can be seen because these nonregular workers are unionized, the fact is that the wage situation of most nonregular workers is uncertain because they do not belong to unions.
According to a survey by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, as of June 2014 the number of part-time workers belonging to unions was 970,000 persons, up 56,000 over the previous year. Although the organization rate rose 0.1 point to 6.7%, the majority of part-time workers remain unorganized. The overall organization rate was 17.5%, down 0.2 point from 2013. In addition, while the number of workers in small companies (with fewer than 100 workers) was 24.16 million, the organization rate was extremely low at 1.0%. In order to realize RENGO's target of a 10 million-strong RENGO, it is essential to actively promote organization in small and medium-sized enterprises and the unionization of part-time and other nonregular workers.
Note: 1 yen = US$0.0083 (as of April 3, 2015)