Defeat All-Out Attacks on People’s Life ? TPP, Reduced Social Security, Labor “Big Bang”: We must stop them right now!

With the return of Prime Minister Abe, the LDP-Komei government is again running out of control. In addition to its participation in the TPP (Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement) in blatant violation of its policy pledge, it is steamrolling the deregulation of labor laws, massive cut in social security system, increasing the consumption tax and other measures to destroy people’s life.
Prime Minister Abe aims to achieve a “country offering the most favorable environment in the world for business activities” (administrative policy speech). We cannot allow the government to have its own way like this. In this issue of “Itsudemo Genki”, we interviewed two personalities who express their indignation to the government’s overdrive.

Economic colonization by the U.S.
First we visited Mr. Naganuma Yoshiharu, Executive director of Yamagata Agricultural Cooperatives (JA Yamagata Chuo-kai).
In August 2012, together with some parliamentarians from Yamagata, Mr. Naganuma visited the Republic of Korea to learn the effects of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which was regarded as the model of the TPP.
Looking back on his visit, Mr. Naganuma said, “I renewed my belief that the TPP would not only affect the agriculture, but would have a grave impact on all other areas of people’s life, including medical care and employment systems”.
When the delegation visited the Headquarters of People’s Campaign against Korea-U.S. FTA, they were told to draw special attention to the “poisonous articles”. For example, the ISD [Investor State Dispute Settlement] is an article setting out the mechanism in which “a private company which has made investment in a country can file a complaint against the government of the country if some regulation or system of that country causes disadvantage to its business activities”. In response to such a complaint, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), a subsidiary organization of the World Bank, where the U.S. has a dominant power, will sit in judgment on the case. The ICSID would only judge “whether investors have suffered a loss or not”, and reportedly would rule in favor of U.S. corporations only.
The representative of the People’s Campaign warned that the ultimate aim of the Agreement “is to economically colonize the country by changing the entire social and legal systems of the country into that of the U.S.” If Japan’s universal healthcare coverage system is deemed a “barrier” for “free business activities”, it is possible for U.S. insurance companies to file a complaint against the Japanese government and demand the abolition of the system.
In this visit, the similarity of the Korea-U.S. FTA and the Japan-U.S. negotiations on the TPP was also made clear. Before the negotiations on the FTA started, the U.S. demanded the “lowering of automobile emission standard” and “cancellation of revising the system of revaluation of pharmaceutical prices” as the “precondition” for entering the talks, which the Korean government accepted. The picture is the same for Japan which was made to accept as the “entrance fee” for the TPP negotiations the “relaxation of anti-BSE import restriction of U.S. beef” and the “massive increase in number of U.S.-made cars to be imported with simplified procedure” and other measures.

Absolute opposition to the TPP
Other organizations that the delegation visited shared the critical situation in Korea and expressed their sense of crisis, saying, “By the Korea-U.S. FTA, the import tariff on nearly 99% of agricultural products was abolished. Discouraged about the future, livestock farmers and fruit growers are giving up on farming” (National Coalition of Women Farmers Associations) and “The long-standing idea of valuing the local foods as best for people’s health is threatened” (iCOOP Consumers Cooperative).
According to the estimate by the Japanese government (in terms of production value), by participating in the TPP, only 1% of Japan’s domestic wheat production would survive, while sugar and other ingredients of starch products would all die out. Rice production would go down to 68%, milk and dairy products to 55%. The total food self-supply rate would decrease from 39% to 27%. The “multilateral functions of agriculture” such as preventing floods or landslide disasters would also suffer the damage, which would amount to 1.6 trillion yen.
Mr. Naganuma said, “I have put all my feelings into this anti-TPP leaflet (produced by Yamagata anti-TPP Campaign Forum).” The leaflet states as follows: “We have a responsibility to protect beautiful landscape and clean environment we have inherited from our ancestors and to hand down our proud traditional culture and dear local communities to future generations. We firmly oppose the TPP in order to sustain the environment, culture, food and people’s life of Japan.”

Camouflaged contract revealed
Next we interviewed Mr. Komoto Takeshi, who has taken Panasonic Wakasa Plant (Tsuruga City, Fukui) to court over its unfair dismissal.
Mr. Komoto started working at this plant in February 2005 as a dispatched worker from an agency. He worked hard on the production line of electronic parts with an average of 100 hours of overtime work every month, but he was proud of working for a world famous company.
However, in the wake of the “Lehman Shock” in autumn 2008, Panasonic suddenly announced the termination of the contract with agency workers. As a matter of fact, employers had an obligation to “offer direct employment to agency workers who have worked for more than 3 years at a company.” Then, why was he not employed directly? Mr. Komoto consulted with trade unions and local labor department and found that his contract had been camouflaged. Despite hiring agency workers in the plant, Panasonic disguised the arrangement as service contracts — ostensibly commissioning unit jobs to workers. Immediately after such disguised service contracts emerged as a social problem, without informing the workers, Panasonic made revisions on Mr. Komoto and other workers’ contracts.
“If the period of disguised contract is included, I have worked at Panasonic for more than 3 years” Komoto pointed out. In response to his appeal, the company gave up on terminating the contracts with 80 workers, including Komoto. Instead, Panasonic offered some options to the 80 workers: (1) To become a direct hire part-time worker (at 810 yen per hour) or (2) To transfer to a subcontractor (maintaining the hourly pay of 1200 yen) and other conditions.
Mr. Komoto informed Panasonic orally that he would choose to be hired directly and requested for a collective bargaining, demanding higher working condition and formal employment. But Panasonic used casuistry and refused to hold a collective bargaining, saying that there had never been a direct employment relationship between the company and Mr. Komoto, and finally terminated his employment itself.
“In retaliation for the disguised contract being exposed and my request for a collective bargaining, Panasonic arbitrarily expelled me from the workplace. This is totally unacceptable”, Mr. Komoto said angrily.

Pressure from U.S. and business community
In Japan, leading political parties and politicians repeat breaking election promises. Illegal labor practices go unchallenged in many workplaces even after the firing of temporary workers became the object of public concern. In the background of the current situation where people’s wishes are not easily realized, we can find the pressure from the U.S. and business circles on the politics of Japan.
The Japanese government promised to the U.S. as the “entrance fee” for joining the TPP that it would not approve new products by the national Postal Life Insurance. This was to meet the view of a U.S. insurance company holding an overwhelming share in Japan. While saying, “We will assert the position of Japan with a ‘strong bargaining power’, in order to defend Japan’s national interests”, Prime Minister Abe actually followed the U.S. demands blindly even before the negotiations started.
Secretary General Uchida Shoko of Asia-Pacific Resource Center, who has traveled to monitor the TPP negotiations as one of the international NGO members sharply criticized the “forked tongue” of the government, saying, “The explanation given by the Japanese government is totally different from what is actually happening in the negotiations.” (Remarks at the rally “Stop TPP Participation” on May 25, 2013)

“Liberalization of dismissal”
Business community of Japan has a lot of say in political matters. The Council for Industrial Competitiveness, one of the advisory bodies of the Prime Minister is composed of many leading business personalities, including Mr. Hasegawa Yasuchika, Chairman of the Association of Corporate Executives. The Council has “proposed” to the government the “participation in the TPP”, “liberalization of dismissing workers” and “resumption of operation of nuclear power plants.”
Regarding the planned liberalization of dismissal considered by the Abe government, Mr. Komoto raises an alarm, saying, “It is natural that employers do not want to continue hiring workers who would disobey the company management. Workers would speak up less and less, and be cornered into a difficult and unstable condition. It is absolutely unacceptable to allow high-handed companies to have their own way, especially when they ignore the current labor law.”

Now is the time to show the real strength of the people
The Fiscal System Council, an advisory body of the Minister of Finance is proposing even more appalling cuts on social security system. (“Our view on budgetary planning for FY 2013”)
In the field of health care, it proposes “development of rules to make advanced medical technology partially covered by healthcare service” and “excluding from public health insurance coverage such drugs similar to commercially available pharmaceutical products as antipyretics, painkillers, analgesic plasters or gargle”. Regarding nursing care, their proposals include “raising users cost” and “excluding from nursing insurance coverage all services provided for patients under Level 3″.
In anticipation of Japan joining the TPP, business communities are apparently helping not only U.S. but also Japanese insurance companies to increase their profit by calling for narrowing the scope of coverage of the public health and nursing care insurances. We are diving headlong into a society where only money would hold the key for longer life and better post-retirement years.
In the name of “economic growth” or “restoring fiscal health”, Abe government is planning an all-out attack to destroy the rules for defending human life and health, and sell out all aspects of people’s life to the market. We are urgently required to develop public opinion and movement to oppose the government moves.
The House of Councilors’ election in coming July will be a big chance for the people to show their will directly. National Min-Iren is calling everyone to raise voices to advance the forces working to realize people’s demands (Appeal by President Fujisue Mamoru), so that people’s due wishes would be met. Now is the time to show the real strength of the people.

(Article by Takeda Tsutomu)


List of items targeted for the “All-out attacks” by the government

<Health care>
— Increasing 70-74 years old patients’ self-pay burden of medical cost to 20%
— Development of rules to make advanced medical technology covered only partially by healthcare service
— Excluding from public health insurance coverage such drugs similar to commercially available pharmaceutical products as antipyretics, painkillers, analgesic plasters or gargle
— Promoting shortening of average hospitalization days by introducing “regulatory measures”
— Increasing national health insurance payment by merging local health service districts
— Cutting expenditure from national budget to subsidize Japan Health Insurance Association or national health insurance unions

<Nursing care>
— Charging a fee for drawing up a care plan
— Raising the user fee to over 20% for those who need Level 1 or Level 2 nursing care services
— Excluding from nursing care insurance coverage all services provided for patients under Level 3
— Increasing fees for shared room users in special elderly nursing homes
— Limiting the acceptance at special elderly nursing homes

— Cutting the pension by 2.5% over 3 years (already approved)
— Perpetual cut on pension by extending the “macro-economy indexation”
— Raising the beginning age of benefits to 68 – 70 years old

— Liberalization of dismissal (cash settlement)
— Legitimization of non-paid overtime work

<Welfare benefit>
— Reinforced check on the financial capacity of applicants’ families/relatives to support the applicants
— Forcing benefit recipients whom welfare offices deem “employable” to take on low-paid jobs
— Reinforced investigation by welfare offices on the spending and health conditions of benefit recipients
— Introducing self-pay burden on recipients’ medical fees
— In principle welfare benefit recipients are to use generic drugs