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Labor ministry admits data flaws for 93 workplaces in work-hours survey

Opposition lawmakers, pictured at rear, ask questions about the 32 boxes of survey forms at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Feb. 23, 2018. (Mainichi)

The labor ministry said on Feb. 23 that irregularities had been uncovered in data for at least 93 workplaces in a 2013 survey on work hours that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cited to stress the advantages of the "discretionary labor" system, which his party wants to expand.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, which announced the finding in a sectional committee meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, is re-examining data for all 11,575 workplaces covered in the survey, and more irregularities could surface.

The ministry earlier announced it had found 117 irregularities in the data for 87 workplaces. In one of these cases, the overtime working hours for a particular person were listed as being lower for a period of one week than for one day during that week.

Separately, in a news conference following a Feb. 23 Cabinet meeting, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato mentioned that the irregularities included 15 cases in which people's working hours exceeded 24 hours per day.

During the sectional committee meeting, Party of Hope legislator Kazunori Yamanoi also pointed out 25 instances in the survey data in which people were listed as working for less than an hour per day. The ministry is looking into this data.

Officials discovered 32 boxes of survey answer forms in a basement storage room at the ministry on Feb. 20 -- after earlier stating that the documents did not exist. The ministry has since been comparing the forms with the problem data. Kato said that the not only the ministry's Labor Standards Bureau, which was in charge of the survey, but also its bureaus handling statistics would take part in the checks.

The 2013 survey was cited in deliberations on work-style reform that would expand the discretionary labor system, in which employees are paid according to fixed work hours rather than the actual hours spent on the job, with the aim of covering a wider scope of highly professional workers. Opposition parties have called for the government to abandon submitting the bill during the current Diet session because it is based on flawed data.

On Feb. 23, 10 legislators from five opposition parties including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Party of Hope visited the labor ministry and confirmed that survey answer forms for about 10,000 workers had been placed in the 32 boxes in the underground storage room. At the request of opposition parties, ministry workers carried the boxes to a meeting room at the ministry and presented them to reporters.

After the boxes of forms turned up following Kato's initial explanation that they didn't exist, opposition parties suggested that the ministry had been trying to cover up the information. Kazunori Yamanoi, a legislator with the Party of Hope who formerly served as a parliamentary secretary for health, labor and welfare, criticized the ministry after the inspection on Feb. 23.

"If they (officials) had searched, they would have known immediately that the forms were in the basement. It's unbelievable that it would take two weeks to search," he said.

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