JAL retirees demand details on pension cut

by Kazuaki Nagata

A group of Japan Airlines Corp. retirees asked transport minister Seiji Maehara on Wednesday to provide a better explanation of the government’s plan to cut JAL’s pension benefits and urged that the issue be resolved via discussions and not through a special law.

“We have been asking to resolve this issue through discussion,” but opportunities have not been provided, said Tsutomu Watanabe, a representative of the JAL retiree group that was formed to study possible revisions to JAL’s pension program.

“We have never said that we oppose everything (about the pension cut) and we never said there is no need for discussion,” Watanabe told a news conference at the transport ministry.

The government on Tuesday revealed measures on rehabilitating JAL that include cutting its corporate pension benefits, possibly through a special law if former JAL workers do not agree to a cut.

Under current laws on pensions, benefits should not be forcibly cut without the agreement of more than two-thirds of JAL’s retirees.

JAL sent retirees a letter last May saying it planned to halve benefits starting in April, and the group has been collecting signatures of former workers who oppose the plan.

Although they are against the 50 percent cut, many retirees said they are ready to share some of the pain to reconstruct the company.

However, no explanations have been given to them, and rumors about the pension cut appear to have taken on a life of their own, increasing the fear factor, they said.

They also said they have not been clearly told how the pension cut will contribute to JAL’s reconstruction, as there is no guarantee it would keep the airline from bankruptcy.

For some reason, “the reconstruction and pensions have come up like a package, but we think the fundamental part of the reconstruction issue is probably not the pensions,” said Hiroshi Hirayama, another representative.

The retirement payments are considered too heavy a burden for the financially strapped airline because the pension reserve fund is far short of its pension liabilities.

The government said Tuesday it wants to avoid using public funds to cover JAL’s pension payments.

Retirees, however, stressed that they have been told the pension fund, as is normally the case, is not managed by JAL and therefore should not be blamed for JAL’s woes.