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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Plans by the new Japanese government to review the salaries it pays Japanese workers on U.S. bases have angered union leaders and stoked fears of a second pay cut since 2008.

The new Administrative Reform Council began reviewing 447 spending projects Wednesday, and one of its targets is the salaries the government pays roughly 23,000 workers on military bases in mainland Japan and Okinawa. Discussion on the salaries had not been scheduled Thursday.

Members of the All Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union, popularly known as Zenchuro, told Stars and Stripes this week that they plan to protest the review to government officials.

“I am angry that another national organization is examining a base workers’ pay cut other than the Ministry of Defense,” union secretary-general Tsuneo Teruya said in a phone interview.

Zenchuro officials said there are no plans to protest or hold rallies at U.S. bases.

In November 2007, the union went on a half-day strike and later picketed 90 base gates in mainland Japan and Okinawa during a full-day walkout. Zenchuro was ultimately forced to accept a 10 percent pay cut that began in April 2008.

Union leaders remain wary of the new government’s plans because of questions raised by Democratic Party of Japan officials when the party was in opposition.

When the current host-nation support agreement between the U.S. and Japan was debated in the Diet of 2008, some Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers opposed the plan and argued that base workers should not be paid like Japanese civil servants. Lawmakers can cut salaries — but cannot cut jobs — under the current support agreement, also known as the Special Measures Act. Discussions are under way for an updated agreement that would take effect in 2011.

U.S. Forces Japan spokesman Master Sgt. Donald Preston said that USFJ and the Japanese government consult regularly on many issues, including the support agreement.

The two countries will conduct a comprehensive review of all facets of the agreement, Preston said.

However, the salary cuts are ultimately Japan’s decision.

The newly created Administrative Reform Council and its mission to make government spending more transparent represents one of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s centerpiece promises from the August landslide election that swept him into power.

A total of 191.9 billion yen — or about $2.14 billion — in base support funds has been requested for next year’s budget, according to Defense Ministry figures. Of those funds, 123.3 billion yen — or about $1.37 billion — has been requested for worker salaries.

The Japanese Ministry of Defense said the request is appropriate and it is prepared to defend the spending in front of the council.

“We will explain as needed and ask for understanding,” a ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

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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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