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The chairman of the country’s largest business association told workers Wednesday to suck it up.

With the “shunto” spring wage negotiations kicking off the same day, Hiroshi Okuda, head of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), said it is inevitable that employees’ wages will be reduced as corporations repair their balance sheets and reinforce their global competitiveness.

“To maintain employment, some employers have work-sharing schemes, but most are trying to reduce wages,” Okuda said. “People must endure this hardship as it is becoming difficult to increase international competitiveness without (keeping salaries stagnant) or cutting pay.”

The chairman of Japan’s most powerful business organization also said that this is the right time to adjust wages since salaries have increased during the past decade despite falling productivity.

He said salaries will rise if Japanese companies are able to recover their competitiveness by increasing productivity and turning out more value-added products.

Major Japanese companies have tended to peg salary levels to other companies in the same sector, but this practice is becoming obsolete, he said.

“What is happening now is that companies that are winning the competition can pay (more to employees) while losing companies cannot,” said Okuda, who also serves as chairman of Toyota Motor Corp.

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