Regarding the Feb. 4 Bloomberg article “Workers stumble while ‘Abenomics’ soars“: Japan’s wages are, and always have been, anemic. Among the many explanations for this, some say it is a hangover from Japan’s extinct lifetime employment system, where lifelong job security compensated for lower wages. One explanation that seems to have escaped mainstream attention is the fact that most Japanese workers speak only Japanese.

Despite a large percentage of Japanese workers possessing world-class skills in a wide range of industries and boasting a top-rate work ethic, their chances of selling their talents outside of Japan are severely limited. So, they sell themselves cheap within the Japanese job market. The supply of talent vastly outweighs demand on this little string of islands. It is simple economics.

The prime minister’s begging corporations to raise wages may have some short-term impact, but unless companies are forced to pay international wages in the face of global competition, or unless they are in immediate danger of losing their best workers to the United States, China and Europe, the results will be short-lived.

From the corporate perspective, why raise costs when there isn’t the need? To convince Japan’s CEOs to raise wages, Abe needs to drive a tank, not a bandwagon. The name of the tank should be “language reform,” empowering Japan’s future workforce with some badly needed leverage to demand global rates.

If Abe is serious about raising Japan’s salary range, he must provide his people with practical, effective opportunities to master English and Mandarin, to name just two languages. Until then, Japanese corporates will continue to cozily exploit a highly skilled job market heavily skewed to their advantage.

jun shiomitsu

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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