Job funding gains and losses mark US-Japan base budget deal
By ERIK SLAVIN AND HANA KUSUMOTO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 16, 2015
A new five-year bilateral spending agreement released late Wednesday will add job funding for equipment maintenance on U.S. military bases in Japan, while cutting funding aimed at improving quality of life for servicemembers.
Japan will contribute an average of 189.3 billion yen ($1.54 billion) over the next five years toward payment of Japanese worker salaries and base utilities, according to a Defense Ministry statement outlining the new host nation support agreement that takes effect in April.
The funding is slightly higher than the annual average of 188.1 billion yen reached in the previous 2011 deal, though a stronger yen made that agreement worth $2.02 billion at the time.
The bilateral deal calls for Japan to pay salaries for up to 19,285 workers focused on equipment maintenance and related administrative services, a 1,068-job increase over the 2011 agreement.
The new maintenance funding is an effect of the U.S. decision to shift more of its ships, planes and other resources to the Asia-Pacific region as part of its global “rebalancing” effort, Japan Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters during a briefing last week.
“The need [for those workers] increased, considering that they are the ones that directly support the U.S. forces to exert their capability,” Nakatani said.
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has voiced support for the rebalance, citing what it has repeatedly deemed an “increasingly severe” regional security environment. Threats include North Korea’s continuing development of missiles and nuclear weapons, as well as China’s claim on the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands.
The priority placed on maintenance came at the expense of Japanese workers at Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities, some of whom face potential job losses over the next five years.
The agreement provides salaries for up to 3,893 workers, 515 fewer than in the previous agreement.
Japanese lawmakers also criticized use of federal funds to pay for leisure activities in 2011, when the finalized agreement cut about 2 percent of the Japanese workforce on bases.
However, the addition of the new equipment-related positions bring total Japan-funded base jobs up to more than 23,000, or about the same figure prior to the 2011 cuts.
The job-funding changes will be staggered over five years, Japanese officials said.
Japan will pay 61 percent of utility costs at U.S. bases, down from 72 percent, not to exceed 24.9 billion yen ($203 million) over five years. Japan will also spend 20.6 billion ($168 million) annually in facility upkeep.