A Japanese base workers’ labor union said it is prepared to strike if no progress can be made in negotiations with the Japanese government, which plans to abolish some worker allowances.

Zenchuro, the Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union, has been unable to reach an agreement with the Japanese government, Kazuo Yamakawa, the union’s secretary general, said Friday. Japan employs the workers and provides the work force to the U.S. military as part of an agreement between the two governments.

If there is no progress in negotiations, Yamakawa said, the union’s 16,000 members will conduct a half-day strike at bases in Japan and Okinawa sometime after Nov. 20.

That’s when the union believes talks between the U.S. and Japanese governments will go into the final phases.

The Japanese government on Oct. 5 proposed cutting workers’ allowances. The plan currently is under discussion between the two governments, according to a Ministry of Defense spokesman.

Air Force Col. Eric Schnaible, a U.S. Forces Japan spokesman, said it would “be inappropriate for us to comment on possible discussions with the government of Japan at this time.”

The cuts include such allowances as USFJ differential, which equals 10 percent of a worker’s base salary; language allowances, which are paid to qualified workers who use English on their jobs; and part of retirement allowances. The total cost of allowances allocated in fiscal year 2007 was about 10.2 billion yen, or about $88.8 million, the ministry spokesman said.

Yamakawa said some of the payments have been made for nearly 60 years.

“They are subsistence pay,” he said. “[Workers] are making their life plan assuming them.”

The decision to abolish allowances came amid the streamlining of national and local costs, including labor fees, the spokesman said.

Yamakawa, however, said working for the U.S. military is different than working for foreign companies, because Japanese laws — especially those covering labor — do not apply to base workers. Furthermore, their jobs may not be stable given the U.S. military’s realignment plans, he added.

The defense ministry hopes to forge an agreement with the union by the end of November or early December as officials plan to allocate it in the next fiscal year’s budget, the ministry spokesman said.

Said Yamakawa: “We hate to cause trouble of the U.S. forces, but we have no other way but to strike to show our intention. It is not our intention to conduct strikes but to win labor conditions that we can agree on.”

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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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