Rejecting Rengo`s 7 percent wage hike, Nikkiren (Japanese Federation of Employer's Associations) contended that the third straight fall in corporate earnings expected for the current business year ending in March, provides little room for cost increases. Noting that businesses` vigorous investment in plant and equipment during the period of the bubble economy increased fixed` expenses and which mobilized three times the number of workers in the high-growth period, the influential employer's group stressed the need to give priority to employment over higher wages in this year's spring wage negotiations.
Labor is trying to concentrate issues for bargaining in the spring wage talks, to a wage hike, shorter working hours, bonuses and intracompany welfare in its demands submitted to management.
Of the issues to be negotiated, regarding shorter work hours, labor asked management to clarify when and haw a reduction of working hours to the 1,800-hour level is to be attained. Furthermore labor asked for an increase in the premium for overtime work, which is set at a lower level than that of Western nations. Under Japan's Labor Standard Law, the rate of increase for overtime pay is set at 25 percent for both work on weekdays and on holidays. In Japan slightly less than 90 percent of establishments adopt a 25 percent overtime premium, while in Western countries it is 50 percent. Longer overtime is pointed out as one of the causes on Japan's long work hours. Labor, therefore intends to trim overtime by raising the overtime premium. In addition, many labor unionists complain that their income fell considerably because of less overtime work due to the sluggish economy. Thus, labor is trying to make up for less income by raising overtime pay.
Referring to shorter work hours, Nikkeiren said that without improved productivity, higher costs are inevitable, thus pointing out that a shortening of working time is not easy to achieve in the midst of sluggish investment in factories and equipment. What is more, the employer's group adopted the stance that the 1,800 work hours goal will be difficult to attain during the 1992-96 period called for by the government's five-year plan for turning Japan into a "lifestyle super power" with less working hours and more leisure time. The goal for the time being should be one of driving home the 1,900-2,000-hour level, said Nikkeiren.
The survey covered members of labor unions affiliated with Rengo, of whom approximately 850 responded to the questionnaire. According to the survey results, 32.5 percent of the respondents picture labor unions as "old-fashioned ;" 12.5 percent as "new ;" 32.8 percent as "conservative ;" and 13.9 percent as "revolutionary." Of those surveyed, 49.4 percent of male unionists with college educations and in the research and engineering field see labor unions as "old-fashioned," 54.5 percent as "conservative," 45.5 percent as "weak" and 29.2 percent as "undependable." Thus the survey showed that many union members picture have a strongly negative image of labor unions.
As for union activities, 10.7 percent of respondents said "labor unions are overly at the mercy of the company," thus voicing their harsh criticism. The percentage of those who said that labor unions are "too cooperative with the company" was also high at 29.8 percent.
However, 53.7 percent answered labor unions are "definitely necessary," followed by "are probably necessary" (39.1%). Thus, only a few rules out the need for labor unions themselves.
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