NAHA, Okinawa — Leaders of a labor union for Japanese base workers on Okinawa pleaded with Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on Thursday to block a 30 percent pay cut proposed by a Japanese government panel formed to scrutinize government expenditures.

The Government Revitalization Unit studied 447 government spending projects proposed for 2010, including salaries of about 23,000 Japanese workers on U.S. military bases in mainland Japan and Okinawa. The workers are paid by the Ministry of Defense under the host nation support program.

Following their recently completed study, Government Revitalization Unit panelists recommended cutting the salaries of Japanese base workers, especially those on Okinawa, saying they were overpaid compared to those doing similar jobs in local communities.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s administration said last month that the government would take the recommendations into account when compiling the budget, to be finalized by the end of December, adding that everything is negotiable.

"If it takes place as they recommend, the salaries of base workers on Okinawa would be cut by 30 percent," said Eizo Yonaha, chairman of the Okinawa chapter of the All Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union, known as Zenchuro, during the visit to Nakaima’s Naha office. He was accompanied by bipartisan members of Okinawa’s prefectural assembly, who sided with the union.

Yonaha said Okinawa’s average pay level is about 60 percent to 70 percent of that of workers on the mainland. Cutting salaries of base workers, he told Nakaima, would further lower the average wage level on Okinawa.

"This is nothing but an insult to Okinawan people," he said after his meeting with the governor. "Are [the members of the revitalization unit] saying that Okinawan people should work for lower wages than people on the mainland?"

During the meeting, Nakaima, union leaders and senior assembly members pledged to lobby aggressively against the pay cut.

Meanwhile, Minister of Defense Toshimi Kitazawa has vowed to try to keep the salaries unchanged.

"I take their recommendation humbly," he said shortly after the Government Revitalization Unit’s Nov. 26 pay cut proposal.

"We will explain our position through budget negotiations," he said, indicating his aim to apply pressure to the Ministry of Finance to retain the salaries.

According to Defense Ministry figures, the ministry in August requested about $1.37 billion for Japanese workers’ salaries as part of Japan’s roughly $2.14 billion worth of expenses for its host nation support program, including base utility costs and construction of housing and other facilities on U.S. military bases in Japan.

Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

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