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Japanese labor union official is optimistic

Haircuts continue as usual Friday at the barbershop on Sasebo Naval Base despite a Japanese labor strike.

TRAVIS J. TRITTEN / S&S

By HANA KUSUMOTO AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 2, 2007

Negotiations between the Zenchuro labor union and Japan’s defense ministry may produce a deal next week, a top union official said Friday.

Tsuneo Teruya, secretary-general of Zenchuro headquarters in Tokyo, said ministry officials told the union Thursday they would be willing to take all sides of the issue into account.

“We were told that they wanted to settle the issue by next week,” Teruya said.

But ministry officials were unable to reveal specific plans for a resolution by Thursday’s deadline, so the union decided to conduct a daylong strike Friday.

A Ministry of Defense spokeswoman confirmed Friday that the latest negotiations ended in another stalemate.

“We will continue to negotiate the matter sincerely to gain understanding of the revision [by the union],” she said.

The next round of talks is scheduled for Friday, but Teruya said the union is open to discussions before then.

In October, the Ministry of Defense proposed to abolish Japanese workers’ allowances, which make up about 10 percent of monthly paychecks. The allowances are incentives built into each worker’s salary. The extra pay is meant to compensate employees for working in a different cultural environment and to reward people using English on the job.

Japan provides the workers to the U.S. military as part of an agreement between the two governments. Under the bilateral accord, such a change must be agreed to by the United States.

U.S. Forces Japan officials have maintained a neutral stance during the impasse.

On Friday, union members at the picket line outside Yokota Air Base expressed anger over the Japanese government’s plan.

“We do as much support as Self-Defense Forces,” said Hiroshi Wakayama, a Yokota Officers’ Club employee and member of the Zenchuro Tokyo district headquarters executive committee. “We play a very important role in the U.S.-Japan relations.”

On Okinawa, two union members spotted a mini-car driven by a Japanese worker entering Camp Foster.

One of them handed the driver a flier with details about the strike. But after they exchanged words for a couple of minutes, the worker behind the wheel continued onto the Marine base.

“She said she has [work] that has to be done by today, although her American boss said it was all right for her to join in the strike,” said union member Naoya Oshiro. “Probably she could not help, but some people just ignore us and even refuse to listen to us, speeding through the picket.

“Isn’t it a shame? The cause we are fighting for is not just for union members but for all the employees working on military bases.”


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