TOKYO Thousands of support workers at U.S. military bases in Japan went on a half-day strike on Wednesday over a Japanese government plan to cut their pay.
Japan plays host to about 50,000 U.S. military personnel, a role which includes providing local employees for duties ranging from cleaning and office work to medical services on the bases.
The Japanese government, struggling with a huge national debt, is eager to rein in costs and a union official said workers were being asked to swallow a 10 percent cut in basic pay.
"If the pay falls, a lot of people will no longer want to work on the bases," Tsuneo Teruya, general secretary of Zenchuren, a union that represents about 17,000 of the 25,000 base workers, said in a telephone interview.
"It will be difficult for the U.S. to find staff."
Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba told reporters on Tuesday that base workers on the southern island of Okinawa, for example, were paid more than regular workers.
Most union members were thought to be taking part in the strike, although fire-fighters and other vital services were operating as normal, Teruya said.
A spokesman for U.S. Forces in Japan said critical military operations had not been affected.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has expressed opposition to Japanese plans to slice 10 billion yen off a 217 billion yen ($2 billion) "non-obligatory" budget for U.S. base funding, which comes on top of the amount Japan pays to rent land for the bases.
The U.S. bases are a source of income for some local residents, but many complain of noise, crime and pollution.
(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Rodney Joyce)