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2008年12月19日 (金)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 18(IHT/Asahi: December 19,2008)

EDITORIAL: Spring labor talks


The 2009 shunto spring labor negotiations took off with nonregular workers--and now full-time employees--feeling insecure about their jobs.


Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation) decided on its tactics for the talks in November. Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) put together its guidelines for the annual negotiations on Tuesday. Both labor and management have made their positions clear.


The centerpiece of Rengo's strategy is "the first demand for a raise in the basic pay scale in eight years." But under the current economic conditions, securing jobs is an urgent and most important objective. The government should also work with unions and management to stabilize the labor situation.


This year, year-on-year growth in the core consumer price index temporarily topped 2 percent while wages declined in value. Labor's share in company profits also fell for six straight years.


The prevailing view among union officials was that a demand for a raise in the basic pay scale would be natural. Rengo maintained its demand for a pay-scale increase even as the financial crisis worsened.


Rengo's logic was that higher wages would "support domestic demand to make up for rapidly declining external demand."


Rengo apparently feared that switching its emphasis from pay hikes to job security would be taken to mean it weakened its stance, playing into management's hands. And that would undermine Rengo's negotiating power.


Of course, Rengo is also paying attention to job security, but it attaches greater importance to demanding government measures in this regard.


Nippon Keidanren is set to reject demands for the pay-scale increase. Furthermore, the business group downgraded job security from a "top priority objective" to a "target to reach." The management side is also urging the government to implement measures to secure jobs.


The government's employment support measures are, of course, necessary, but efforts by both labor and management are also indispensable. If the annual negotiations enter the key stage with both sides sticking to their current stances, we fear that efforts to secure employment could be sidelined.


At this juncture, Rengo should review its strategy and focus on employment security as a whole, including jobs for nonregular workers. Even if its demand for a hike in the basic pay scale is met for full-time employees, workers will not be able to support domestic demand if jobs for nonregular employees are cut.


The major challenge for Rengo is to prevent the collapse of domestic demand by protecting employment as a whole. It is important to bring management to the table and make job security the top priority.


Amid deregulation and an increase in the number of foreign shareholders, Japanese-style management underwent a change and is now eager to secure immediate profits even at the cost of cutting jobs. Should it carry on this way? The ongoing financial crisis provides a test.


Companies should try to attain growth while striking a balance with shareholders, workers and other stakeholders. It is time to seek such a new management model.


In the past, company officials in charge of labor affairs thought about employment in the context of the national economy and society as a whole. Cutting jobs was a last resort and a painful task.


We are not saying that we should go back to the old days. Rather, what is now important is to restore that tradition in a way that meets the new age.


How should we build a new management philosophy and systems that attach importance to employment? Labor and management should work together to come up with an answer. We need efforts so that, in a few years from now, we can look back and say, "That shunto changed Japanese management."



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