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Average Real Wage Declines for Fourth Consecutive Year;
Unions Seek Recovery and Upswing in 2016 Spring Struggle

According to the monthly labour statistics bulletin announced by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare on February 8, the real wage index for 2015, which measures whether wages are rising in excess of price inflation, dropped by 0.9% from the previous year to register its fourth consecutive annual decline. The bulletin shows that the government’s trumpeted "positive economic cycle," in which good business performances by companies lead to better wages, is still not spreading very widely. According to statistics compiled by RENGO (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), wages rose by 2.2% in the 2015 spring labour struggle, but the effects did not ripple down to unorganized workers, especially unorganized workers in small and medium-sized companies. The average unionization ratio in Japan is 17.5%, but in companies with 99 or less employees, it is only 1%. This low unionization ratio is thought to be having an impact on the situation.
The average monthly cash earnings per worker (including overtime pay and bonuses) were 313,801 yen, up 0.1% over the previous year. Due to the rise in fresh food prices and the impact of the consumption tax hike, however, the increase in the consumer price index outpaced real wages.
The number of part-time workers increased by 4.3% over the previous year and accounted for 30.48% of regularly employed workers (up 0.66% over the previous year).
Regarding the decline in the average real wage, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe explained in the Diet last month that "The average wage per worker is low because, thanks to the economic recovery, the number of part-time workers has increased." But the fact is that the average real wage of ordinary workers, excluding part-timers, in 2015 also declined by 0.6% from the previous year. The average real wage of ordinary workers dropped for the fourth consecutive year from 2012, and the average wage of part-time workers fell by 0.5% for the third consecutive annual decline.
In the 2016 spring labour struggle, trade unions under the RENGO umbrella are demanding wage hikes in the region of 3%-4%. The management of large companies will give their replies to these demands in mid-March, thereby setting the first market level for wage hikes. This will be followed by negotiations between labour and management in core medium-sized and smaller companies. Especially in smaller companies, where the gap with larger corporations is striking, RENGO is calling for investments in human resources because the building of attractive industries and companies is essential for their survival and productivity improvement. For this purpose, RENGO will endeavor to carry over the first market level for wage hikes to wage negotiations in small and medium-sized companies, improve the conditions of part-time and other nonregular workers, and make sure that the results of negotiations spread throughout society as a whole.

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