Workers against Japan reforms

The Star, Friday 12 April 2002

TOKYO: Thousands of Japanese workers swarmed the parliament building in Tokyo yesterday to declare war on a reform agenda drawn up by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Scrap the Koizumi reform, scrap the reform that bullies the weak, unionists shouted in chorus, angrily punching their fists in the air led by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or Rengo.

Japan is now about to be rated below the bankrupt Argentina. Did workers or people do anything wrong? No! Rengo chairman Kiyoshi Sasamori told some 5,000 people at the rally, referring to warnings from global agencies that the country's ratings could be downgraded.

Many people kill themselves every day due to financial woes, Sasamori charged. Who made Japan like this? It's the Liberal Democratic Party and the current coalition, he said.

We get off to a start today in the war (against the government).

Koizumi has said Japanese people must endure the pain of economic structural reforms to ensure their flagging economy gets back on track, with the nation's jobless rate standing at record levels.

But Sasamori said Rengo had collected signatures from 7.75 million people opposing planned changes in the medical insurance scheme, including higher charges on salaried workers from April next year.

Koizumi was health minister when the public medical insurance system was revised five years ago to make insurance holders pay more.

Yesterday's protest was part of a series of national rallies—the biggest in more than 12 years by Rengo, Japan's largest labour federation grouping 7.5 million workers.

Some 13,500 people marched through Tokyo on Wednesday, demanding increased measures to boost employment and better treatment for part-time workers.

Japan's decade-long economic slump has forced labour unions to focus more on job security than pay rises at the annual wage negotiation known as the spring labour offensive.

Workers are likely to receive record low salary increases this year after big-name companies broke a decades-long custom by failing to offer improved salary scales.