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Thursday, March 1, 2012

In rare case of bipartisanship, Diet cuts bureaucrats' pay


Staff writer

A bill to slash national civil servant salaries by an average of 7.8 percent for two years was enacted Wednesday after clearing the opposition-controlled Upper House.

The bill will save about ¥580 billion in the two years from April 1. The savings will be used to finance reconstruction in the Tohoku region, which was severely damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

It was based on a proposal by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, but the ruling Democratic Party of Japan had to support it to get other key bills passed, including the government-sponsored tax hike and a special bill to issue deficit-covering government bonds.

The civil servant pay cut was the first major legislation agreed to by the DPJ, LDP and New Komeito this Diet session, which kicked off in January.

The bill cleared the House of Representatives last week.

The special law will also cut the salaries of national bureaucrats for fiscal 2011 by 0.23 percent on average, in line with a recommendation by the National Personnel Authority. This cut will be applied retroactively to last April.

When the DPJ reached an agreement with major supporter Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) to make significant cuts in civil servants' pay starting last April, the party promised to give bureaucrats the right of collective bargaining and not to implement the 0.23 percent cut.

But the LDP opposed giving the basic labor rights to government workers and urged the DPJ to go through with the 0.23 percent pay cut.

According to the law, the prime minister will receive a 30 percent salary cut, while salaries of Cabinet ministers as well as vice ministers will be slashed by 20 percent for two years beginning in April.

The law also states that pay for Self-Defense Forces personnel will not be cut for up to six months, because of their duties related to Tohoku reconstruction.

Meanwhile, a bill to revise lawmakers' public secretaries was also enacted. According to the bill, salaries of lawmakers' public secretaries will only be reduced for two years by 0.23 percent starting in April, as the LDP argued that secretaries who are not permanently employed should not be treated the same as national civil servants.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the pay cuts and the ruling party's plan to pare 80 seats from the 480-seat Lower House are an effort to cut public expenses and gain public support for doubling the consumption tax.

However, the fate of the plan is still up in the air as the DPJ was unable to reach a conclusion with the opposition on shrinking the Lower House and narrowing the vote-value disparity by last Saturday. That was the deadline for the Lower House apportionment panel to submit a reapportionment plan to the prime minister, and therefore the vote-value disparity in the Lower House is currently illegal.

The Supreme Court ruled last March that the August 2009 Lower House election was held "in a state of unconstitutionality" because of the large disparity in the value of each vote between depopulated rural areas and crowded urban areas.

While the DPJ says it will continue discussing the issue with the opposition, its secretary general, Azuma Koshiishi, hinted Monday the party may propose cutting lawmakers' salaries to show they are also suffering.

"We will have to respond (to the pay cut plan) properly," he said.

In January, Koshiishi was less eager to cut Diet members' salaries, saying reducing the number of Lower House seats was the priority, after Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada suggested slashing lawmakers' pay.



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