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TOKYO — Officials of the labor union representing Japanese workers at U.S. bases said they’re prepared to strike in May at Yokosuka Naval Base if their demand regarding a national change in retirement age is not met.

Navy officials say some base functions could be affected if the union workers strike, but essential operations would continue.

At issue: bridging the five-year income gap between Japan’s current retirement age of 60 and new pension age of 65. “They have to continue working to maintain their lives in their early 60s,” said union general secretary Kazuo Yamakawa. “It is a matter of life and death.”

Leaders of the All Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union, or Zenchuro, currently are negotiating with the Defense Facilities Administration Agency. They are demanding that all Japanese base workers who wish to continue working after the current retirement age of 60 be allowed to do so until they reach the new pension age of 65, Yamakawa said.

Japan’s revised Stabilization of Employment of the Aged law took effect April 1. The law obligates all employers to continue employing workers who wish to work after 60.

As a result, employers either must raise their company’s mandatory retirement age, introduce a continued-employment system that employers and unions agree to or abolish their companies’ mandatory retirement systems.

Most private corporations are said to have completed implementing one of those systems, but no decision has been made for the base workers.

The Zenchuro leaders met with DFAA April 14 but saw no progress, Yamakawa said.

“We received no official response,” he said, but added that union leaders believe discussions are progressing.

A DFAA spokesman said the agency is working hard toward implementing requirements under the revised law but refrained from discussing negotiation details.

Union leaders have requested another meeting with DFAA officials in May. But if no agreement is reached at that time, Yamakawa said, the union is prepared to go on strike in the week of May 15.

The strike would involve about 4,000 Japanese workers, making it the largest strike by the union in 15 years, Yamakawa said. Details of the possible strike are to be decided as the deadline nears, Yamakawa added.

The U.S. Navy is monitoring the issue.

“The U.S. Forces have received no notification of a planned strike but we are aware of recent media reports pertaining to this,” Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokesman Jon Nylander stated in a written response to a query.

Although the effect of the strike depends on factors such as size and timing, he stated, “The U.S. Navy does not expect that a strike would curtail essential operations, although some services would be cut back to ensure that essential operations continue.”

About 5,000 Japanese workers at Yokosuka perform most types of maintenance, supply, administrative, construction, security, fire protection, health care and various other support duties, Nylander stated.

Stars and Stripes reporter Allison Batdorff contributed to this report.

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