First raise for Japanese day laborer in 20 years, but McDonald’s out of reach

TOKYO, Jan 20 (Reuters) – Masami Fujino recently got his first raise in 20 years, but it’s still not enough to let the Tokyo day laborer afford regular McDonald’s hamburgers as much as before.

“Last year I finally got a slight raise in one place,” said the 54-year-old, who works for a moving company and in construction. “It allowed me to finally reach the minimum wage there”, 1,072 yen (8.31 dollars) per hour in Tokyo.

Sharp price increases linked to soaring raw material costs are weighing on Japanese workers, as years of deflation or minimal increases give way to inflation of 4%, the highest in 41 years.

Big business, under pressure from the government, is offering its biggest raises in decades. Clothing giant operator Uniqlo is planning pay rises of up to 40%, and more than half of major companies in a Reuters survey are planning pay rises.

But many of the small and medium-sized businesses that employ the vast majority of Japanese workers cannot keep up.

The situation is worse for workers like Fujino, who is among a growing number of non-regular or temporary employees who often work in lower-paying jobs not subject to minimum wage or social security.

Their numbers have risen since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched policies a decade ago that have boosted stocks and corporate profits but failed to raise wages much. Irregular workers made up 36.7% of the workforce last year, up from 31.5% in 2019, according to government data.

Fujino earns an average of 250,000 yen ($1,900) a month from his two jobs. Some months it’s half that, due to seasonal factors.

“I’m really jealous of places like Uniqlo with their raises – and I wonder if we’ll ever see the same,” he said.

“Uniqlo sells clothes, but they depend on a lot of people like shippers etc. When they increase their employees’ salaries, they have to cut expenses elsewhere. I just hope it doesn’t make people feel bad about it. down as we suffer even more.”

A college dropout, Fujino worked part-time during Japan’s late 1980s boom years, then became a bartender before transitioning to manual labor 20 years ago. Sometimes he works the night shift, sometimes it’s the day shift.

When he has free time, he can enjoy a long bath in a cheap public bath.

Single, Fujino cooks most of his food – rice, dried seaweed, a fried egg, rice balls, perhaps with pickled plums. From time to time he eats in cheap restaurants or goes out for a drink.

Sometimes in the past, “I used to buy a whole bunch of burgers at McDonald’s. But the price went up from 110 to 170 yen last year,” he said. “Now I could only buy half of what I used to.”

Health insurance pays for the blood pressure medication he needs and he rents a one-room apartment.

He just laughs when asked about savings and retirement.

“I don’t think I’ll be old – after all, I have high blood pressure. I’m probably still 10 years old and I can manage,” he said.

“What really worries me are the young people doing the same work.”

($1 = 128.9900 yen)

Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by William Mallard

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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