最低賃金 まだ残る生活保護との逆転

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Aug. 3, 2009)
Minimum wage should always exceed welfare
最低賃金 まだ残る生活保護との逆転(8月3日付・読売社説)

The Central Minimum Wages Council, an advisory panel to the health, labor and welfare minister, has proposed to the minister reference increases for the minimum wage in fiscal 2009 that differ from prefecture to prefecture.

The proposals are to leave unchanged the minimum wage in the 35 prefectures in which the minimum wage exceeds welfare benefit, and to raise the minimum wage in the remaining 12, including Tokyo, by 2 yen to 30 yen an hour.

If the panel's recommendation is adopted, the national average minimum wage would rise by between 7 yen and 9 yen to 710-712 yen an hour, which translates to a net monthly income of about 106,000 yen. Considering current economic conditions, such a hike would be a drastic one.

A year-on-year comparison of the national average minimum wage shows that increases of 14 yen and 16 yen occurred in fiscal 2007 and 2008, respectively, representing double-digit growth for two consecutive years. But the rate of wage increases for small companies nationwide, which the advisory panel studies when working out the minimum wage reference increases, fell into negative territory in 2009.

Panel members selected from labor circles sought an increase of 50 yen an hour in the minimum wage last year, but failed to demand a specific figure this year, no doubt in consideration of the severe business environment.


Panel's proposal no panacea

The Minimum Wages Law, which was revised in July 2008, calls for setting the minimum wage by factoring in employers' ability to pay wages and "harmonization of the minimum wage and welfare benefit."

Even in the current economic climate, if the panel had abandoned the goal of pursuing "harmonization of the minimum wage and welfare benefit" only two years after the law revision, its raison d'etre would have been called into question.

The problem of the minimum wage being below welfare benefit in the 12 prefectures will not be solved merely through the implementation of the panel's recommendation. In the case of Tokyo, if the minimum wage is raised in line with the panel's proposal, the amount would be increased from the current 766 yen an hour to a maximum 796 yen. But 796 yen an hour is 30 yen less than the amount of welfare benefit paid in the capital, in hourly terms.

The amount of welfare benefit is categorized in six ranks according to municipality (cities, towns and villages). The national average minimum wage is compared with the average amount of welfare benefit received by young, single people in each prefecture. In most of the 35 prefectures whose minimum wage the panel proposes be left as is, the amount of welfare benefit paid out in the capitals of those prefectures likely will exceed the minimum wage paid in those cities.

The advisory panels responsible for setting the minimum wage in each prefecture will decide how much to raise it based on the reference increases proposed by the central government panel, and the raises will be introduced from October. We hope the minimum wage will exceed welfare benefit in all the areas of each prefecture.


Deeper discussions needed

If welfare benefit exceeds the minimum wage, workers who receive little more than that amount will lose the motivation to work, while people on welfare will have no incentive to find a job. "Harmonization of the minimum wage and welfare benefit" is an issue that should be seriously discussed next year and after, too.

With the increase in the number of nonregular workers, including part-time workers, the importance of the role of the minimum wage system as a social safety net is growing.

The manifestos of each opposition party and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's coalition partner, New Komeito, for the next House of Representatives election propose a minimum wage of 1,000 yen an hour. But it is problematic to treat student part-timers on an equal footing with fatherless families when it comes to setting the minimum wage.

More intensive discussions on a fair minimum wage level and how to set such a level should be held, taking into account how this issue affects corporate management.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 3, 2009)
(2009年8月3日01時21分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2009-08-03 08:45 | 英字新聞

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