February 3, 2011
In the House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting on February 2, Japanese Communist Party Chair Shii Kazuo urged the government to change its policy toward protecting people’s livelihoods and their safety.
Shii took up the issues of the dismissals of employees at the Japan Airlines (JAL), the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade pact, and the overly high national health insurance premiums.
JAL has cut back 16,000 employees as well as 165 pilots and cabin attendants on the grounds that the company must regain financial stability.
Referring to a JAL outside advisory group’s proposal in 2009 that the company should focus its energy on creating a multi-layered safety structure, Shii pointed out that JAL Chair Inamori Kazuo in a press interview stated “Before, safety came before profits.” Shii asked the prime minister for his opinion regarding the present JAL stance of giving priority to profits over safety.
PM Kan Naoto replied that safety should be given priority, but defended Inamori’s remark as a sincere effort to strengthen the administrative capabilities of JAL.
Shii pointed out that JAL opted to dismiss skilled, experienced workers, with the result that now there are no pilots aged 55 and over, copilots aged 48 and over, or cabin attendants aged 53 and over. It turned out that the prime minister did not know of this situation.
Pointing out the government responsibility for the safety of public air transport, Shii referred to the US Air accident in 2009 in which the work of its 57-year-old pilot and its 49-year-old copilot resulted in no deaths with 155 passengers and crew on board. Shii pointed out that JAL’s decision to dismiss veterans first destroys the “multi-layered safety structure” in aviation. Ohata Akihiro, land and transport minister, replied that he would call JAL to account for its age-based restructuring program.
Shii further pointed out that JAL’s way of nominating those to be dismissed based on record of absences from work due to illness or due to aviation safety reasons also threatens flight safety. The prime minister acknowledged, “It is not good to drive workers into a double bind in which they have to work in order to avoid reporting non-optimal health conditions.”
Shii stated that it is irrational for JAL to dismiss workers now that the company has earned 146 billion yen and has achieved its own target of dismissals. The JCP chair urged the government to instruct JAL to revoke the 165 workers’ dismissals.
Shii stated that the TPP free-trade pact represents a “U.S.-led economic framework incorporating Japan into the U.S. global economic strategy.”
The government has so far explained that Japan’s entry into the TPP will constitute “a process (as the foreign minister describes it)” for achieving a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific in which 21 members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference participate.
However, China and South Korea are not taking part in the TPP in the first place. Indonesia and Thailand are also standing back from the zero-tariff pact. Furthermore, “what the ASEAN nations are focusing on now is economic partnerships in East Asia (as the ASEAN secretary general has stated).”
Given these facts, Shii stated that “eastern Asian countries have no consensus” on the TPP.
To join the TPP, Japan needs the approval of the U.S. Congress. The Japanese government itself admits to this.
As a condition for Japan’s participation in the tariff-free pact, the U.S. administration is pressing Japan to abandon its food-safety standards, including relaxing restrictions on the age of cattle to prevent BSE infections and easing safety inspections of imported rice.
Shii argued, “Japan will not only become heavily dependent on imported foods but will also lower its safety standards on imported foods to the level of the United States.”
Shii demanded that trade rules based on food sovereignty be established and that economic relationships in East Asia be developed through economic partnerships based on equality and mutual benefit.
The JCP chair revealed that premiums for national health insurance amount to as much as 10 percent or more of insured people’s income.
For example, in Osaka City, a four-member household with an annual income of three million yen has to pay 428,700 yen in health insurance premiums in a year. Prime Minister Kan had to admit that the burden appears to be heavy.
Shii criticized the government for requiring municipalities to further increase the premiums, stating that the Welfare Ministry’s instruction sent to local governments last May proposes a raise in annual premiums for health insurance by 10,000 yen per person on average.
As more and more people fall behind in their premium payments, some municipalities are using money-collecting methods that are not much different from extortion and are in disregard of human rights, including investigating insured people’s assets and seizing their bank deposits.
Shii introduced a case of a restaurant owner in Osaka City, who has paid his health insurance premiums in installments since his business deteriorated under the recession. The city government investigated his financial capability and discovered the education insurance he has paid for a long time to pay for the college tuitions for his two children. Then the municipal office told him that it will seize the education insurance benefits if he does not fully pay the health insurance premium payment of 835,000 yen.
The main cause of the rise in premiums as pointed out by the JCP representative is the cut in the rate of state contribution to health insurance funds to 24 percent from 50 percent (1984).
Shii demanded that the ruling DPJ fulfill the promise it made in 2008 as an opposition party to increase the budget for health insurance funds by 900 billion yen.