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Another base worker strike maybe averted as Tokyo backs off

Date Posted: 2007-12-11

There will be no strike by workers on American military bases starting December 12th, unless the central government in Tokyo does another about face.
Tokyo has signaled it plans to keep its budget for U.S. bases in Japan next year at the same level as 2007, about ¥140.7 billion. The Defense Ministry had wanted to cut the budget for supporting American bases by ¥55 billion by slashing salaries and benefits for base workers. The Japan All Garrison Workers Labor Union, which represents more than 60% of the 26,000 workers on the bases, including 6,000 in Okinawa, has already staged two strikes protesting the plan.
The government wanted to curb labor costs by ¥30 billion, and save another ¥25 billion by having American forces pay more of the utility bills. The labor cuts wanted by the Defense Ministry would have reduced the average worker’s wages by 10%. Extensive negotiations with the union, also known as the Zenchuro, were unsuccessful, leading to announcement of a three-day strike beginning December 12th.
Instead, the Defense Ministry indicates wages will remain frozen at the current level, although the Zenchuro is calling for wage increases. The government says it will cut its labor budget by ¥300 million, leaving workers where they are now, but they still insist on making some cuts in the benefits. The proposed budget adjustment would reduce the budget called for by the Special Action Committee on Okinawa by ¥10 billion.
Kazuo Yamagawa, the Zenchuro chairman, has been meeting with officials in Tokyo, promising “We’ll do a third strike December 12th if you don’t listen to our request.” A defense ministry spokesman says “we will negotiate with the workers union and do our best for a quick settlement.” A Tuesday meeting in Tokyo is expected to confirm the government reversal on wage cuts.
The new Tokyo position comes as Japan and the U.S. negotiate this week for a new three-year cost-sharing plan. Japanese officials hinted the position change wasn’t made to accommodate workers, but rather, to improve strained relations with Washington. Those relations have been on thin ice since Japan pulled out of an Indian Ocean refueling program, and Japan’s failure to embrace Washington’s position to remove North Korea from the list of states sponsoring terrorism.
Japan is now negotiation a ¥10 billion reduction in maintenance contracts costs to U.S. bases. The Status of Forces Agreement calls for Japan to pick up the tab for such costs.

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