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TOKYO — A Japanese government working group recommended reviewing salaries of local workers on U.S. military bases as a potential cost-cutting measure, though it backed away from offering a specific proposal.

Nine of the 12 panel members said Thursday evening that base workers being paid more than private company workers in the same field should have their salaries cut.

A pay cut among the roughly 25,000 Japanese who work on bases would be the second since 2008, in the midst of one of Japan’s worst economic situations since the end of World War II.

The panel is part of the Administrative Reform Council, created soon after the Democratic Party of Japan took power in August as an attempt to fulfill its campaign pledge of a more transparent government spending process.

Japan pays the salaries of about 23,000 of those workers, though bilateral agreements require negotiation between the two countries on decisions affecting Japanese workers.

The employment figures are part of the Special Measures Act, which was last signed in 2008 and expires in March 2011.

"We ask you to take [salary parity] into account when reviewing the Status of Forces Agreement and Japan-U.S. Special Measures Act agreement, and in labor management negotiations in the future," said Yukio Edano, a Japanese Diet member who chaired the hearing.

Panel members cited Okinawa in particular as an area where base workers made more money than people in the private sector with similar jobs.

Government officials who testified before the panel responded that base workers are paid more for their special qualifications, such as English language skills and being able to pass a security check.

Kazuo Yamakawa, president of the All Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union, popularly known as Zenchuro, also pointed to the special burden of having a U.S. military base use up a large area of land — and potential economic opportunity — in Japan’s communities.

"Cutting salaries doesn’t lift the burden of the local people," Yamakawa said. "Instead, local workers will struggle to live, and it will interfere with the local economy and development of the regions."

Yamakawa said the union would not yet take action because the panel does not have final authority.

He added that when negotiations begin, he hopes that working conditions — for example, some Japanese base workers get fewer holidays than other Japanese people — and other benefits are factored into any future agreement.

The panel’s recommendation on salaries and 446 other projects will be forwarded to the Administrative Reform Council.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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