The season of annual wage negotiations has started just as a large number of workers, especially irregular employees, have lost or are set to lose their jobs. Both labor and management should set their respective resolve on finding ways to protect employment.

A survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry shows that about 85,000 irregularly employed workers have either lost or will lose jobs between October 2008 and March 2009. A survey by Teikoku Databank, which covered 10,731 companies, shows that 15.4 percent of them had dismissed employees by the end of 2008 — after the current economic downturn set in — and that 22.4 percent plan to do so in or after 2009.

Even regularly employed workers cannot be too optimistic. The Teikoku Databank survey shows that 14.7 percent of the companies plan to dismiss regularly employed workers and 16.9 percent plan to lay off irregular workers in and after 2009.

Although the Japanese economy as a whole is tumbling and the employment situation is worsening, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the nation’s largest labor organization, plans to push for both a raise in the basic wage rate and job protection. For the first time in eight years, Rengo will call for an increase in the basic wage.

Mr. Fujio Mitarai, chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), proposes work sharing as one way to keep people employed. Through work sharing, companies at least could expect to limit increases in payroll. If such a plan is introduced, regular employees’ working hours and wages may be reduced to enable irregularly employed workers to remain employed.

Rengo has about 6.8 million union members under its wing. But the problem is that 92 percent of Rengo’s members are regularly employed workers. As for protecting the jobs of irregularly employed workers, the labor organization says only that companies should observe relevant laws. A question is whether Rengo will put up a strong fight to secure employment for irregularly employed workers. Amid these negotiations, both company executives and union leaders are urged to do their utmost to fulfill their social responsibility.

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