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Delivery trucks are parked at a parking area along the highway in Chiba Prefecture. Image: REUTERS file
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Japan's overworked, underpaid truckers left behind in wage bonanza

36 Comments
By Satoshi Sugiyama

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36 Comments
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“That's the best we can do," said Sakata. How much is Sakata paid?

6 ( +14 / -8 )

Seems like they need a truckers' protest.

But perhaps they should first ask Canada how well that went...

16 ( +18 / -2 )

If truckers in Japan stopped trucking then life would become very uncomfortable for everyone.

The power they have is immense.

21 ( +23 / -2 )

The tide is turning, if you can't find a way to increase your service fees, you shouldn't stay in business.

You asked for it, end monetary easing...now deal with it, freemarket style.

I just hope things aren't going back to heisei era hunger and homelessness despite peak household wealth (mostly through asset valuation propped up by jusen loopholes).

-6 ( +5 / -11 )

Japan's overworked, underpaid truckers left behind in wage bonanza

Overworked, underpaid in Japan, done by Japan Inc. Is there anything new?

Wage bonanza? Just pay them properly, that's it.

Too bad that Japan Inc can't hire Vietnamese trainee for this purpose otherwise they already done that.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/11/16/national/vietnamese-trainees-overtime-pay/

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/07/21/national/social-issues/technical-interns-abuses/

-11 ( +14 / -25 )

@sakurasaki

it's more nuanced than you think. The family trucking firms are competing with owner operators who don't have employees and are easier to squeeze by the market. Some market rationalisation must occur (ie shut up operation) so as to enable the strongest to thrive.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Let's recapitulate.

It starts with a "wage bonanza" and "their heftiest pay hikes in decades"

Then you read that:

Workers at major firms have asked for annual increases of 5.85%

Which is not whooping, considering prices have raised a +30%

And then:

smaller and medium-sized firms, which account for a whopping 99.7% of all enterprises 

So this "whooping" bonanza will only correspond to the 0.3% of corporate workers, for about a 5% or rise.

14 ( +18 / -4 )

Time for a strike. A few hundred of them could have a big effect.

13 ( +14 / -1 )

Oh, and truck drivers should strike. In a week or so there would not be food in Tokyo supermarkets and the (amazing) delivery network in Japan would collapse.

16 ( +19 / -3 )

but is afraid that might be difficult.

In Japanese, this means it won't happen.

8 ( +14 / -6 )

If truckers in Japan stopped trucking then life would become very uncomfortable for everyone.

The power they have is immense.

Trucking is cut throat. No unity. As soon as some drivers got together to strike, there would be a few independent operators more than happy to take their business.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

The big players like Toyota and Nssan only use the cheapest truckers ,suppliers etc so thats about it !

1 ( +5 / -4 )

@ sakurasuki

Again your comments are without content.

Just create a solution which may be more beneficial but that would be difficult for you.

13 ( +17 / -4 )

Wage "bonanza"? Sure, for people at the top who have connections and were already wealthy to begin with. For the more-than-70% of the work force who don't have this leverage and have to take anything they can get while the cost of living goes up and up? Not so much! What a joke!

8 ( +9 / -1 )

The government is counting on such wage hikes to trickle down

Erm, this has never worked, and never will work.

-2 ( +15 / -17 )

drive away workers who have long relied on the extra hours to make a living

The only way to make halfway decent wages in Japan is to work stupid hours of overtime.

-8 ( +11 / -19 )

It also raises questions about whether the time is right for Japan's central bank to finally normalize monetary policy, with sustainable wage increases seen as one of the conditions for an end to negative interest rates.

Forget about intense competition etc., that's easier to solve. The bigger connundrum is, companies with excess cash, vs companies with excess debts. I would say many of these family companies are drowning in debt (to lease the trucks), and now that interest rate is moving upwards, they will struggle with a double whammy, ie increase demand for wages, and increase demand for debt servicing.

IMHO, if Ueda doesn't have a firm hand on this, Japan could spiral back into massive inflation driven struggle, really quickly. Trucking is not the only industry in Japan surviving on debt....just saying.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

That's the best we can do," said Sakata. How much is Sakata paid?

I get that you are just stirring the pot here, and folks unfamiliar with the position the Japanese middle men are in, will just nod their heads in ignorant agreement.

Just like the sub-sub-sub contractors who work for the large conglomerates, these small to mid sized trucking companies are barely scrapping by. Hell it's next to impossible to find qualified drivers here and I will bet any money she isnt making all that much, if any money at all!

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Experts say the proliferation of players in the industry due to a wave of deregulation in the 1990s was partly to blame for the sector's unique strains.

As in other nations the wave of neo-liberal "reforms" labeled deregulation in the 80's and 90's had the effect of ensuring a race to the bottom for labor and increasing the share of gains going to stock-holding capitalists.

The government is counting on such wage hikes to trickle down to smaller and medium-sized firms, which account for a whopping 99.7% of all enterprises and about 70% of the country's workforce.

Because trickle down has ever worked? Corporate tax breaks , incentives, subsidies and corporate welfare always end up in stock buybacks, dividends and executive bonuses.

Despite facing some of the country's tightest labour markets and no shortage of demand, small delivery companies like Sakata's can barely afford to make ends meet.

Cry me a river. Sakata's companies and larger ilk refuse to pay living wages according to the hours worked.

They are trying to relax language requirements for licensing and opening up the market to more low wage foreign labor.

They are trying to profit disproportionately as demand remains high and wages low, despite the labor crunch, before the inevitable shift to automation which will require significant capital investment in infrastructure that will finally weed out the smaller players in the business.

I doubt firm owner Ikuko Sakata will be having to visit soup kitchens like other Japanese workers though.

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20230710/p2a/00m/0na/020000c

6 ( +9 / -3 )

Delivery rates in Japan are ridiculously low.

As are the "demanded" short delivery times.

I'm always amazed at how quick our online orders are processed and delivered. Some are longer, but most in a few days maximum.

And cost? More often than not no fees applicable or very low.

I ordered 4 winter tires a couple of years ago for my car (larger SUV). Shop was in Kanto and I live in West Japan about 750+kms away.

The bulky heavy tires were delivered in a couple of days or so for ¥500/each.

Super Great for me, but that's not sustainable for any business.

Ordered tire/wheel set for my wife's K-car a few years ago from the same shop - free delivery.

It's about time citizens accepted a realistic rise in delivery costs and rationalization of delivery times - and not whining about it.

The flow on should be awarded to drivers.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

The government is counting on such wage hikes to trickle down to smaller and medium-sized firms, which account for a whopping 99.7% of all enterprises and about 70% of the country's workforce.

Have they accounted for the substantial amount of middle man jobs? These jobs keep wages low and so the time lag between the top corporate workers getting their whopping 5.85% increase will be substantial before any of those 70% workers are able to see any increase at all. First services will need to increase their prices, then the invoices from staffing companies will need to increase (which is a long shot considering they want to remain competitive and therefore would need to remain cheap) then the trickle down to workers will get the remaining cut which is going to be less than half of the 5.85% the top is receiving.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

...smaller and medium-sized firms, which account for a whopping 99.7% of all enterprises and about 70% of the country's workforce.

This pretty much sums up that there is no "wage bonanza" aside from the .3% large corporations.

Trickle down theory economics doesn't work and the sooner this government realizes this the better.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

It sounds like the trucker shortage in the US too. The UK lost many truckers due to Brexit. Increased paperwork at the border now means the same people working the same hours will produce less cross-boarder trucking.

This was on my mind after the article the other day saying that fertility rates were crashing worldwide. You can just "get immigrants in" if every other country is chasing immigrants too.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Empty "Abenomics" that only benefited large corporations and expanded inequality.

-4 ( +5 / -9 )

Replace 'truckers' with 90% of workers in Japan

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

It's about time citizens accepted a realistic rise in delivery costs and rationalization of delivery times - and not whining about it.

It might also be good for the high street too, which could do with the boost.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I have always heard truck drivers are well paid, as doing long distances, sleeping away from home, etc.

Delivery drivers category is different with certainly more concurrence and tighter wages

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I always think Japanese truck drivers are the underappreciated and unsung heroes keeping the Japanese economy running!!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Shipping is very cheap and fast in Japan. Less than half the price of what it costs back home. No wonder the poor truck drivers are getting squeezed.

What makes me puzzled though is the proposed solutions to this, such as allowing trucks to drive faster or giving them special lanes. The issue is how the industry is structured. Encourage mergers, make sub-sub-sub contracting illegal and the companies and drivers would fare much better.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

280,000 yen a month before overtime.

With overtime and a bonus they aren’t doing too bad. It is physically demanding with traffic and weather hazards unlike cubicle warriors who confront insufferable boredom.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Truckers are an important part of the Just in Time Inventory system in Japan due to limited store and business space. But with AI, driverless vehicles, and drones they'd be better off training and reskilling in areas of driverless vehicle and drone operations.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Ultimately, most of these trucking jobs will be replaced by aerial and road drones. I know the government is opening up visa places for truck drivers, but even if they should attract some SE Asian drivers, it will be stop gap until automation takes over.

I truly hope Ms Sakata in the story is investing heavily in drone technology.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

But aren't we getting self driving trucks in the near future? Driven by robots that don't pee in pet bottles and litter the countryside?

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Ultimately, most of these trucking jobs will be replaced by aerial and road drones.

I think AI will assist drivers for example handling the routine driving on long hauls while the driver is present but resting.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

What people feel to realize is, nothing moves unless the truckers move it. The truckers is the life line for moving good so that stores can provide services, if they want pay raises they must band together and strike once they do this these owners will give in. IF they strike long enough the stores will go bare because the truckers are on strike preventing goods being trucked across country to stores.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

@ Albert

Again your comments are without content.

Just create a solution which may be more beneficial but that would be difficult for you.

I already pointed it's caused overwork and underpaid, everyone know solution for that. Pay more or recruit, more people, if that service will cost up. That's the way.

Government know this, compared to other industry, this one JGovt slightly dispatch inspector to make truckers know about this.

https://www.fnn.jp/articles/-/676524

.

Overwork driver tend to suffer fatigue, however so far this only pointed to driver responsibility even accident keep happening.

https://japantoday.com/category/crime/truck-driver-arrested-over-fatal-hit-and-run-of-23-month-old-boy-in-saitama-prefecture

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/06/20/national/hokkaido-bus-truck-collision-no-brakes/

https://japantoday.com/category/crime/truck-driver-arrested-over-fatal-hit-and-run-after-woman-dragged-for-400-meters

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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