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2015年8月 3日 (月)

最低賃金上げ 中小企業の体力強化が重要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Small, midsize companies must be helped amid minimum wage hikes
最低賃金上げ 中小企業の体力強化が重要だ

Increasing minimum wages is of key importance to shoring up consumer spending and materializing stable economic growth.

A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry panel — the Central Minimum Wages Council — has decided on a bellwether for minimum hourly wages for fiscal 2015, calling for minimum wages to be raised by a national average of ¥18. This is the steepest increase since fiscal 2002, when the government started indicating a bellwether minimum hourly wage.

Using the bellwether as a reference, respective prefectural government councils will set increases in minimum wages based on the circumstances of their regional economies.

Minimum wages are applied to all workers in all fields of businesses in each prefecture, and it is illegal to pay less than the minimum.

If minimum wages are raised in line with the bellwether, the national average will stand at ¥798 per hour. Full-time employees working for the minimum wage would take home about ¥130,000, up around ¥3,000 from the previous year.

Mainly because of an increasing number of nonregular workers, approximately 1.9 million people now work for minimum wage. If materialized, the recommended minimum wage hike would directly improve such people’s working conditions. This is of considerable significance.

In this spring’s annual shunto pay raise negotiations between labor unions and employers, many companies — especially big ones that saw their business results improve — granted large pay hikes. But such pay raises have yet to spread to small and midsize enterprises and nonregular workers.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed a strong intention to realize a sharp increase in minimum wages, instructing his Cabinet members in charge of economic affairs to proactively press the issue. It was apparently aimed at spreading the trend toward higher wages to a wide spectrum of employees to ensure the effects of his Abenomics economic policy permeate.

Regional gaps must be fixed

But it remains a question whether small and midsize companies, the business environment of which has remained stringent, can afford large pay raises. Many such companies have been plagued with ballooning raw-material costs and related expenditures because of the yen’s weakening.

Will some companies find themselves unable to afford rises in personnel costs due to higher minimum wages and therefore cut their payrolls? The government should be vigilant in this respect.

It is important to craft an environment in which businesses feel comfortable about raising wages.

To this end, it is essential to strengthen the management of small and midsize enterprises. Government assistance for such projects as investment in plants and equipment that would enhance productivity should be further expanded.

It is also important to extend support for job skills training for employees to enable them to find jobs with more favorable working conditions. In this connection, job training programs should be enhanced.

One problem is that regional disparities in minimum wages have been widening.

According to the council’s bellwether for minimum hourly wages, Tokyo tops the list of minimum wages with ¥907. But in seven prefectures, including Okinawa and Tottori, the minimum wage is ¥693. The difference between the highest and lowest minimum wages stands at ¥214, an increase by ¥3 from fiscal 2014. The gap is more than twice that in fiscal 2002.

A continuation in the outflow of workers from regions with low pay into major urban areas could jeopardize the government’s goal of vitalizing regional economies.

Efforts in both the private and public sectors must be redoubled to rectify the regional minimum wage disparities by creating jobs attractive to people in nonmetropolitan regions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 2, 2015)


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