Japanese base workers postpone strikes
TOKYO — Japanese workers at U.S. bases battling against their government’s plan to cut their pay postponed a series of all-day strikes scheduled Wednesday through Friday.
The strikes, to be held at U.S. military bases in Japan and on Okinawa, will now be held Monday through Wednesday, Tsuneo Teruya, secretary-general of the Zenchuro labor union’s headquarters in Tokyo, said Tuesday.
No settlement was reached between the union and Ministry of Defense representatives during negotiations Monday, said Hiroshi Zamami, chairman of Zenchuro’s Okinawa chapter.
Ministry representatives are proposing to pay workers 30 percent of salary allowances, which make up 10 percent of an individual’s pay, for the next five years before abolishing the allowance system, Zamami said.
“The gap is still large to fill, and the offer is unacceptable by any measure,” he said. “Yet, under the present circumstances, we judged that we won’t be able to expect any better answer even if we go on a strike at this time.”
The Defense ministry’s labor management official declined to comment on the strike but said, “We will continue to negotiate the matter wholeheartedly in order to gain understanding of the union.”
Strikes are now set for Monday at Okinawa bases.
Misawa Air Base, Yokota Air Base, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Sasebo Naval Base, along with smaller installations not in Kanagawa prefecture, will see strikes Tuesday.
Wednesday’s strikes are scheduled for Kanagawa prefecture bases including Yokosuka Naval Base, Camp Zama and Naval Air Facility Atsugi.
The strikes are planned to last eight hours and begin for workers when they start their regular business day.
However, Teruya said the union is open to any negotiations before the strike.
The proposal to abolish allowances last month came amid the streamlining of government spending, ministry officials said. The total cost of the allowances allocated in fiscal year 2007 was about $88.8 million, according to the defense ministry.
U.S. Forces Japan officials have maintained a neutral stance during the deadlock, making supportive statements of their Japanese employees’ rights but declining to comment on negotiations.
The union expects Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba to exercise political leadership to break the impasse and settle the issue, Zamami said.
“We have an expectation in the remarks made by Minister Ishiba on Nov. 30 that he would work on the issue wholeheartedly,” he said.
He also said that two strikes in November helped the general public understand the situation surrounding Japanese base workers.
However, not all Japanese base workers believe in the strike.
Takeo Taira, chairman of Okichuro, which was formed in 1996 as a pro-military, alternative labor union to Zenchuro, said the union’s 600 members oppose the strike strategy.
“What we need to do is to give the country full recognition to the significance of the supporting roles Japanese workers play in operations of U.S. Forces in Japan,” he said. “How can we boycott our jobs when we are fully aware of our roles and responsibilities?”
Taira said his union is negotiating with the Defense Ministry separately from Zenchuro.
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, are Zenchuro members, according to the union.
Stars and Stripes reporter Vince Little contributed to this report.