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Despite repeated appeals by Kiyoshi Sasamori, chairman of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), to improve treatment for part-time workers during this year’s spring labor offensive, nearly 44 percent of affiliated unions were found to have no such plan.

Labor sources said Sasamori wanted to increase wage levels for all workers by winning wage increases for part-time workers and at the same wanted to refute criticism that unions are satisfied with a wage gap for such workers, and that both labor and management are responsible.

Unions, however, have been reluctant to respond to Sasamori’s appeals.

According to a Rengo survey, 43.7 percent of affiliated unions said they have no schedule to improve treatment for part-time workers, and 52.5 percent said they have no schedule to organize such workers.

Last year’s rate of organization of part-timers was only 3 percent.

Rengo sources said that what unions are really thinking is that increases in wages for part-time workers will lead to decreases in those for regular workers and union members.

Sogo Yoshimiya, the chief of Rengo’s men-women equality bureau, said, “If poor labor conditions for part-time workers are left unattended, no improvement in labor conditions for regular workers can be expected.”

The wage gap between part-time workers and regular workers is widening.

A survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said that if the average per-hour wage for a regular female worker is the base figure of 100, that for a female part-time worker was 68.4 in 1998 and fell to 64.9 in 2002.

In 2003, the figure for part-timers improved to 65.7, but the increase was attributed to decreased wages for regular workers.

The gap further widens if bonuses are included, the survey showed.

Gaps other than wages are also wide.

According to a 1999 survey by the then Labor Ministry, 50.1 percent of nonregular workers, including part-time workers, were covered by employment insurance, 40.3 percent by health insurance and 38.1 percent by the employees’ pension plan.

Only 16.1 percent benefited from the retirement allowance system, it said.

Amid moves to decrease regular workers through restructuring, the number of “quasi-part-time workers,” with working hours and duties almost the same as those of regulars, is increasing.

Rengo is seeking the same treatment for such part-time workers as regulars under the principle of “same labor, same wage” as in the Netherlands and France.

But Takashi Chiriki, an executive of the Japan Business Federation, said, “Wages are determined in accordance with contribution to companies. Since regular workers can have their workplaces changed and go to the office on weekends and holidays, it’s a problem to pay the same wages to both kinds of workers.”

On the other hand, moves are spreading to rectify the wage gap chiefly in the supermarket industry where part-time workers account for 70 to 80 percent of the total workforce.

Aeon Co. has introduced a personnel system in which able part-time workers are given the same treatment as regular workers and are promoted to heads of small and midsize supermarkets.

Seiyu Ltd. has begun paying performance-based bonuses to outstanding part-time workers to attract able personnel.

The new task for the management side is to create workplaces where both regular and nonregular workers can work with satisfaction.

“Social stability and development are determined by improvement in technology and wages of nonregular workers, and in employment rules. Revised working rules and wage distribution for regular and nonregular workers are required,” said Nobuko Nagase, an assistant professor at Ochanomizu University.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has decided to present a bill to the Diet obliging enterprises to increase overtime pay to part-timers and temporary staff to help improve their treatment and rectify the wage gap with regular workers.

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