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Reflecting the nation’s continuing economic weakness, pace-setting major firms in the auto, electronics, shipbuilding and heavy machinery sectors on March 18 offered wage hikes smaller than those given last year to their labor unions.

Labor officials said the average rate of salary increase in Japanese industries at the ongoing annual wage negotiations is certain to fall below the 2.9 percent recorded last year and will probably be around the record-low 2.83 percent offered in 1995.

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