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A subcommittee of the labor ministry’s advisory council on minimum wages started last-minute talks on Monday, with the labor and management sides remaining apart on the issue.

The subcommittee seems certain to call for a smaller wage hike than in the previous year, as the domestic economy is struggling amid the COVID-19 epidemic. The panel may refrain from indicating specific wage levels, observers said.

Annual minimum wage hikes came to around 3 percent in each of the last four years, reflecting a push by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for higher wages.

In fiscal 2019, the nationwide average of minimum hourly wages rose ¥27 from the previous year to ¥901, posting the largest increase ever.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, Abe has taken a cautious stance toward aggressive hikes. “The highest priority now is to protect jobs through all-out efforts by both the public and private sectors,” the prime minister has stressed.

In this fiscal year’s minimum wage talks so far, a panel member from the management side has claimed that the panel should not indicate specific wage levels but only call for minimum wages to be kept around the same levels as in the previous year.

Meanwhile, a member of the labor side has called for continuing minimum wage hikes, arguing that spurring domestic demand is essential for an economic recovery.

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