Japanese base workers plan to strike
November 18, 2007
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A Japanese base workers labor union voted Friday to go on a half-day strike Wednesday to protest the Japanese government’s plan to slice their salaries by at least 10 percent.
About 70 leaders from the union’s eight regional headquarters throughout the country attended the labor-management negotiations at the Ministry of Defense building in Tokyo.
“The government failed to show us a reasonable reason, instead, unilaterally demanding us to accept their plan,” said Eizo Yonaha, deputy secretary general of Zenchuro, the Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union.
The planned strike is to last four hours, beginning at the start of the business day of each individual worker, he said.
The union, however, leaves its door open to the government for further negotiations, Yonaha said.
After Wednesday’s strike, if there is no progress, the union is scheduled to hold another strike Nov. 30 for eight hours, and a third sometime in December, he said.
As of September, 25,530 Japanese were employed at 55 U.S. military installations throughout the country.
About 16,600 of them, or about 65 percent, belong to Zenchuro, said Hiroshi Zamami, secretary-general of the union’s Okinawa District headquarters.
The Japanese government employs base workers and provides the personnel to U.S. Forces Japan as part of the Status of Forces Agreement between the two governments.
On Oct. 5, the Japanese government proposed abolishing Japanese workers’ allowances. Under the bilateral agreement, such a change must be agreed to by the United States.
The proposal was part of an effort to streamline the government’s spending, according to a spokesman for the Public Information Division of the Defense Ministry.
The offer is being discussion by the governments, the spokesman said.
The proposed cuts in allowances include USFJ differential, which equals 10 percent of a worker’s basic salary; language allowances, which are paid according to English language proficiency of each worker; and part of retirement allowances.
USFJ differential is an allowance paid to Japanese employees working on U.S. military bases under instruction and supervision of Americans, which has been considered “special work environments,” according to ministry officials.
However, such consideration is outdated in today’s Japan, Defense Ministry officials said.
“As Japan’s social structure has changed, working in non-Japanese environments are no longer considered special,” the defense ministry’s spokesman said. The labor union disagrees.
“USFJ differential is an allowance by name only. It is indeed an inseparable part of the basic salary,” Yonaha said.
Even with the allowance, salaries of base workers are 20 percent lower than that of Japanese government employees, he said.
For fiscal year 2007, Japan allocated $1.89 billion under Host Nation Support.
Of that, $1.27 billion, or 67 percent, is paid as worker’s salaries, including allowances.
The total cost of allowances the government hopes to eliminate is about $88.8 million.