This year's spring offensive began in the midst of a slowdown in the growth of the U.S. economy and the drop in Japan's stock prices, making the economic future still more uncertain. Nevertheless, although the results are not yet finalized, the settlement of accounts at the end of March 2001 for firms listed on the stock exchange are expected to show a surplus on a consolidated base for the first time in four years. This would surely indicate that business profits are undoubtedly on an upward trend. For improvement in business performances to accelerate the overall recovery of Japan's economy, labor unions claim, there should be wage increases to boost the economy via an increase in individual consumption. Employers broadly agree that restructuring (e.g., reducing fixed costs by eliminating unprofitable company operations) has helped to improve company performance. However, Nikkeiren (Japan Federation of Employers' Associations) stresses in its 2001 Position Paper that the maintenance of employment levels must continue to be given the foremost priority in the upcoming round of negotiations with labor, and that total labor costs should be maintained as much as is consistent with each enterprise's ability to pay. The Position Paper is referred to by many employers as a kind of guideline for their negotiations. The paper clearly states, as it did last year, its view that the maintenance of employment levels is important, stressing that the improvement in company performance should be reflected, first, in the maintenance and stability of employment, and also in the provision of bonuses and one-time payments in line with the performance of the company.
The average annual income of employees dropped in 1998 and in 1999. This was the first time in post-war history that income had dropped two years running. Despite a slight increase in bonus payments last winter, the average pay hike in leading enterprises was 2.06 percent in 2000, a record low in the history of the spring offensive. Accordingly, workers did not have the impression that their incomes had actually increased. In thinking through their demands for this year's wage hike, there is another element which may be considered in this year's negotiations. Although wages have fallen some, due to a drop in the price of consumption goods as well, labor unions are not so desperately insisting on a wage increase. Demands from the union side through the national centers and the industrial federations remain more or less the same as last year. While the first stage of negotiations last year had focused on raising the pensionable age, which meant raising the compulsory retirement age to beyond 60, this year's negotiations could be characterized as a spring offensive without focus. The affiliates of Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) agreed to demand that the current wage curve be maintained, with a net basic wage increase of one percent or more and targeted pay raises by type of job for employees aged 30 and 35. The unions and federations affiliated with Zenroren (National Confederation of Trade Unions) agreed to demand the same target pay raise as in the previous year, ¥15,000 for everyone, everywhere.
Kinzoku-rokyo (Japan Council of Metalworkers' Unions), one of the influential organizations setting the pace for the spring offensive, has demanded a net pay hike of ¥2,000 to ¥3,000, the same amount requested last year. Accordingly, the basic pay hike demand has been fixed at ¥2,000 by all industrial federations affiliated with the council, expect for the ¥3,000 put forward by JAM (Japan Association of Metal, Machinery, and Manufacturing Workers). Jidosha-soren (Confederation of Japan's Automobile Workers' Unions), Denki Rengo (Japan Electrical, Electronic & Information Unions), Zosen-juki-roren (Japan Confederation of Shipbuilding & Engineering Workers' Unions), Hitetsu Rengo (Japanese Federation of Industrial Materials and Energy Workers' Unions), and Zendensen (Japan Federation of Electric Wire Workers' Unions) have decided to demand a basic pay raise of ¥2,000, the same as last year. Negotiations in the electronics and automobile industries will again this year attract the greatest attention. Given that the number of newly registered automobiles recorded the first increase in Japan in four years, it will be interesting to see whether unions in the automobile industry will act as the pace-setter in this year's negotiations.
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