Major Japan Firms Agree to Labor Unions’ Pay Demands; Hopes for Higher Wages to Spur Virtuous Economic Cycle

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Responses from companies covered by the Japan Council of Metalworkers’ Unions are shown on a white board in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, on Wednesday.

Many major companies offered Wednesday to provide the full amount requested by their unions in the shunto spring labor wage negotiations, and some even took the rare step of offering more.

Hereafter, the focus will be on whether the increases lead to wage hikes that exceed price increases and stimulate a virtuous cycle in the economy.

On the day when many big firms respond to their unions’ demands, including those for annual bonuses and pay-scale increases — which raise the level of base pay across the board — Nippon Steel Corp. offered a pay-scale rise of ¥35,000 per month, or ¥5,000 more than its union had sought. The demand had been for about 10% of the base pay, the biggest request since 1975.

Nippon Steel is believed to have decided that the increase was necessary to reflect its strong business performance and secure excellent human resources for the development of decarbonization technology and other projects.

On March 8, Suzuki Motor Corp. said it would raise its monthly wage at least 10%, exceeding its union’s demand.

Toyota Motor Corp. on Wednesday also fully accepted its union’s requests, offering higher annual bonuses and a pay-scale increase. The wage increases are set in 17 categories according to job type and position, and range from ¥7,940 to ¥28,440, the highest increases since comparable data became available in 1999.

Toyota employees will also receive a record 7.6 months’ salary as annual bonuses.

Nissan Motor Co. was also among those meeting their unions’ demands, announcing Wednesday a monthly pay-scale hike of ¥18,000. Honda Motor Co. agreed with its union on Feb. 21 to raise monthly wages by ¥20,000, the full amount the union had wanted.

Unions of 12 major companies under the Japanese Electrical Electronic & Information Union had requested a monthly pay-scale hike of ¥13,000. Hitachi, Ltd., Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Fujitsu Ltd., NEC Corp. and others agreed to meet the full amount, significantly more than the ¥7,000 they offered in the last year’s spring labor wage negotiations.

Panasonic Holdings Corp. also accepted all its union’s demands, offering to boost the pay scale for the 11th straight year. This was the second straight year it fully met its union’s demands. The amount of the increase is expected to be the highest in the past 10 years.

Among machinery giants, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. agreed a requested pay-scale increase of ¥18,000.

Many companies in the retail and food service industries also agreed to large wage increases.

Aeon Retail Co. agreed with its union on its request for a record pay raise of ¥19,751, including a pay-scale rise and regular salary increases, for its regular employees.

Zensho Holdings Co., which operates the Sukiya gyudon beef-on-rice restaurant chain, offered a monthly wage increase of ¥47,278, exceeding its union’s request.

Japan’s economy has begun to show signs of recovery, with the Nikkei Stock Average on the Tokyo Stock Exchange having reached its highest level in about 34 years. Corporate performances have also been strong.

Meanwhile real wages, excluding the effect of prices, marked their 22nd consecutive month of decline on a year-on-year basis because wage growth is failing to keep up with rising prices. Consumers are becoming thriftier as a result.

Attention will also be paid to whether wage increases among major companies will spread to small and midsize enterprises.