Production workers at major automakers and electronics companies won increases in basic monthly pay Wednesday for the first time in five years, with Toyota Motor Corp. agreeing to the 1,000 yen raise demanded by its union.
The wage hikes differ sharply among companies. In previous negotiations, it was customary for firms in the same sector to act in unison when making counteroffers to unions.
But steelmakers, shipbuilders and heavy machinery makers did not respond to demands for higher pay from their unions, opting instead to continue talks in hopes of reaching an agreement next year.
Tsuyoshi Takagi, chairman of the Japan Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), called this year’s wage negotiations an “80 percent success.”
“The negotiations were tougher than we thought, but it’s the first step in a turnaround year,” he told a news conference. “I want to praise the unions that won the wage hikes.”
Toyota agreed to the 1,000 yen rise in basic pay, as well as a seniority-based annual pay hike of 6,900 yen per month meant to remedy “distortions in the pay scale,” Toyota said.
Honda Motor Co. agreed to a basic wage hike of 600 yen. The union had requested a 1,000 yen increase.
As negotiation results from member unions were called in to the Confederation of Japan Automobile Workers’ Union’s headquarters in Minato Ward, Tokyo, senior officials breathed a sigh of satisfaction.
“These are the results of all-out efforts” by the unions, a senior confederation official said. “But we still don’t know how some unions will fare.”
In response to uniform demands for a 2,000 yen basic wage hike in the electronics sector, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. and Hitachi Ltd. each offered a 500 yen increase and Fujitsu Ltd. proposed a 1,000 yen hike.
At the Japanese Electrical Electronic & Information Union, which had organized the unified request, the phones were silent for much of the morning and did not start ringing until almost noon.
“We can’t tell a union that had been fighting (for 2,000 yen) to come down (to 500 yen),” one senior official said. “While it’s rough going for some unions, we’d agreed that if the negotiations were sincere, they could get (1,000 yen).”
In contrast, steelmakers turned down a request for a 3,000 yen raise over the next two years, despite strong earnings in the industry, saying wage hikes should come in the form of higher semiannual bonuses.
The “shunto” industrywide wage talks held each spring have been a fixture on the labor-management scene for over 50 years, but they have lost most of their significance as organized labor lost ground during the prolonged recession after the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 1990s.
The relatively generous pay offers by the major car and electrical appliance makers reflect their healthy earnings, industry observers said.
During the current wage talks, strong corporate earnings and an improving economy have strengthened the hand of unions, but management is resisting across-the-board wage hikes.
Toyota also agreed to grant bonuses averaging 2.37 million yen for the year, which meets the union demand, thanks to expected record net profits at the automaker for the business year to March 31.
Honda offered bonuses worth 6.65 months’ pay, a record high for the company. The union had asked for 6.70 months’ pay.
Many companies were responding Wednesday to wage increase demands from unions belonging to the Japan Council of Metalworkers’ Unions, the 2-million-member umbrella organization for the manufacturing sector.