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KITANAKAGUSUKU, Okinawa — Members of Japan’s largest military base workers’ union staged protests in front of Camp Foster on Okinawa and Yokota Air Base near Tokyo on Friday.

The 16,000-member strong Zenchuro, or Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union, staged the one-day sit-in to highlight its demand for better working conditions.

About 150 union members participated in the demonstration opposite Foster’s main gate.

At Yokota, about 70-80 people staged a peaceful demonstration next to Ushihama Garage, across from the Supply Gate.

The Okinawa protest included 19 union representatives from other U.S. bases in Japan, including Misawa, Zama, Yokota, Iwakuni and Sasebo.

Among complaints spelled out in pamphlets distributed by protesters was a claim that two female employees of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s Exchange on Kadena Air Base were mistreated by a supervisor. Both allegedly fell seriously ill after the supervisor rejected their requests to go home.

“It is very regrettable that such incidents occurred,” said Kazuo Yamakawa, the general secretary of the national union who was in Okinawa for Friday’s protest.

“Had Japanese labor laws been applied to Japanese employees, those incidents could have been avoided.”

The labor union presented 12 demands for changes to workplace rules to the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, the official employer of the Japanese workers.

Chief among the union’s demands is a request to apply Japan’s maternity protection law to pregnant employees and elimination of a “use or lose” annual leave system to allow unused annual leave to be carried over to the next year.

The union wants the Japanese government to enter negotiations with the U.S. military to change the Master Labor Contract and Indirect Hiring Agreement to apply Japanese labor laws to all Japanese employees.

“Under the present situation, the bare minimum of working environment standards are not observed,” Yamakawa said. “We have been addressing the government with these issues for the past half a century, calling for protections of Japanese workers under Japanese laws.

“There is a limit to our patience,” he said.

“Because our employer is the Japanese government, our status should be based on that of a Japanese government employee,” said Mariko Maita of Misawa Air Base, Japan.

“But in reality, we do not receive the same protections as they do.”

The protesters also said they wanted the number of official holidays increased. Union members said they get five days fewer than Japanese government employees.

— Vince Little contributed to this report.


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