Japan Inc wage hikes not enough to meet higher cost of living: Reuters poll

Tue Mar 17, 2015 3:37am EDT
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By Tetsushi Kajimoto and Izumi Nakagawa

TOKYO (Reuters) - Most Japanese firms plan to raise salaries by at least the same degree as last year, but even two years of wage hikes will not be enough to compensate workers for increases in the cost of living, a Reuters poll showed.

Since taking office in late 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has heaped pressure on businesses to lift wages - seen as essential if his stimulus policies are to succeed in boosting consumer spending and dragging the world's third-largest economy decisively out of decades of deflation and stagnant growth.

In results that come a day before Japan's biggest firms announce wage plans following annual talks with labor unions, the Reuters Corporate Survey showed 55 percent of firms plan to lift wages by the same extent as last year. Another 14 percent say they are set to boost wages more than they did last year.

"If big companies raise wages substantially again this year, we may have no choice but to follow suit in order to secure workers regardless of our earnings," a manager at a transportation firm wrote.

But for employees and Abenomics, the glass is set to look more empty than full, as the increases will not be enough to offset a 3 percentage point increase in the national sales tax that went into effect last April and unexpectedly tipped the economy into recession.

When asked how much they expect wages to have increased since the tax hike if plans for this year were included, three quarters of firms expected rises of between zero and 2 percent. Another 17 percent said they expected rises of 2-3 percent.

The results underscore the divide between some of Japan's strongest firms like Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T: Quote) which are expected to agree to significant wage increases and the rest of the corporate sector.

"Wage hikes appear uneven and slow to spread beyond top companies such as Toyota," said Hidenobu Tokuda, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute.   Continued...

A man with a smartphone riding on an escalator is reflected in a glass window at a business district in Tokyo February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Yuya Shino