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Japan probing ministries over padded employment rates of disabled

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan has begun investigating ministries and agencies suspected of having padded its employment rates of people with disabilities for over 40 years to match a legal requirement, government sources said Thursday.

The actual hiring rates are now expected to fall to less than 1 percent -- far lower than the government target of 2.5 percent for itself and below half of the publicly announced rates. It will also be significantly lower than the goal set for the private sector.

Nearly 10 key ministries and agencies, including the transport and internal affairs ministries, have misrepresented the rates by including in the headcount personnel with relatively mild disabilities who do not carry "disability certificates."

The alleged practice dating back to 1976 -- when employment of people with disabilities became mandatory -- surfaces at a time when the government is pursuing a policy of realizing a fully inclusive society.

A law promoting the employment of people with disabilities requires central and local governments and businesses to hire, in principle, people with physical disability or mental disability certificates, as well as those intellectual disabilities.

The suspected routine practice of padding the employment rates at the central government was apparently because of hiring difficulties due to factors such as long working hours and unexpected assignments such as preparing for Diet sessions.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare told Kyodo News that it has yet to check the facts.

"It is a big problem if the government has carried out the designation of people with disabilities arbitrarily," said Katsunori Fujii, the chief of the Japan Council on Disability. "If it has covered things up for over 40 years, it means the check-and-balance system was not functioning."

To be role models for the private sector, the hiring rate for public institutions is set higher at 2.5 percent of total employees, while that of businesses is 2.2 percent.

If a company with more than 100 employees fails to reach the target rate of 2.2 percent, a fine of 50,000 yen ($451) per employee per month is charged and in some cases its name is disclosed.

The health ministry, which oversees the employment system for people with disabilities, is now considering fining companies with more than 50 employees.

As of June 1, 2017, about 6,900 people with disabilities were said to be hired in 33 national administrative agencies, which accounts for 2.49 percent of their total employment on average, achieving the then target rate of 2.3 percent.

Meanwhile, about 496,000 people with disabilities were working in private companies, an average of 1.97 percent of their total employees as of June last year. Both figures were record highs.

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