The number of workers on regular payrolls remained virtually unchanged in 2004, edging up just 0.4 percent from the previous year to 42.83 million.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Tuesday in a preliminary report that while the marginal increase was the first in seven years, the overall average monthly wage for 2004 — comprising both regular and overtime pay — fell 0.7 percent to 332,485 yen.

The ministry blamed the decline, which has continued for four consecutive years, on an increase in the number of part-time workers.

Of the regular payroll employees who have been working at one place for more than a month, the number of full-time workers fell 1.1 percent to 32.01 million for the seventh straight year of decline. The number of part-time employees rose 5.5 percent to 18.12 million.

Ministry officials said the slight rise in the number of regular payroll workers indicates that Japanese companies, which had been cutting employee numbers, started facing the need to secure workers due to a pickup in economic activity.

The figures also indicate companies’ preference for part-time workers, who cost less, according to the officials.

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