‘Freeters’ rally for better wages

Abe's policies hit for widening gap between rich, poor

by Jun Hongo

Temporary workers known as “freeters” and other dissatisfied laborers gathered Monday in Tokyo to demand a better work environment and higher wages, arguing government policies have caused many of them to settle for low-paying jobs and an unsteady life.

Motoaki Yamaguchi, a member of PAFF, or Part-Timer, Arbeiter, Freeter & Foreign Worker, a union for such part-timers, blamed the government’s policies for creating a society characterized by a handful of rich and people who have jobs but cannot escape poverty.

“This is a day of uprising,” he told the gathering in Shinjuku Ward of some 200 people, calling for all participants to unite and demand better treatment by the government.

PAFF, which organized the event, said the government is blaming people who lack the ability to land a regular job for poverty and the growing wage disparity among workers.

“The right to live must not be monopolized by those who have the ability (to obtain a full-time job),” a statement released at the event said, adding the government should abolish low wages and extensive work time while guaranteeing that everyone has the right to a proper life and an adequate wage.

The event was attended by part-time workers, including women and foreign laborers living in Japan under financial difficulty. Many later joined a demonstration march through Shinjuku to commemorate May Day.

Speaking as a guest, Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party, criticized the policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, saying, “All men and women should be treated fairly and have the right to live the life they choose.

“The government has finally begun to comprehend that policies and laws can diminish the gap between rich and poor, but there remains a lot of work to do,” Fukushima said.

In March, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry announced that the average number of freeters — part-timers aged 15 to 34 or jobless people of the same age group eligible for part-time work — dropped by 140,000 in 2006 from the previous year to 1.87 million.

But Fukushima said many workers — especially the elderly, women and part-timers — cannot live a civilized life due to lack of support from the government.

“Mr. Abe prattles on that he is trying to build a beautiful country, but that’s far from the reality,” she said. “We must adjust his policies.”