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Editorial: Tough measures needed to punish padding of disabled workers by gov't

Central government ministries such as the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications have padded the ratios of disabled employees at their offices for the past 42 years. It is an incredible betrayal by leaders who are supposed to promote the employment and independence of the disabled.

The government must conduct a thorough investigation into the ratios of disabled workers at public bodies including ministries, agencies, their affiliated organizations and local governments, and take tough measures against violators.

The Act on Employment Promotion etc. of Persons with Disabilities obligates private companies and central and local governments to hire a certain percentage of disabled people. The figure for public offices is currently set at 2.5 percent (it was 2.3 percent until this past March), which is higher than the ratio for the private sector. As of June last year, 33 central government administrative organizations had employed a total of about 6,900 workers with disabilities, and their average percentage among the total workforce was calculated to be 2.49 percent.

People who can be counted as disabled workers are limited to those with government-issued disability certificates or diagnosis from a medical doctor. However, ministries and agencies also factored in people with light disabilities who do not meet those legal definitions. It is said to be a customary practice used since the introduction in 1976 of a legal requirement for the employment of the disabled.

Private companies face severe guidance measures if they do not meet the legal requirement for the employment of people with disabilities. Corporations with 100 employees or more must pay 50,000 yen per month for each disabled worker they are obliged to hire but don't. The names of these companies will be published if they do not improve their employment of the disabled.

Ministries and agencies try to justify their failure to meet the legal standards by saying it is difficult to hire more disabled people because their working hours are long and workers are required to suddenly handle assignments without prior notice. Such an excuse sounds appalling to people in the private sector.

Private companies are legally bound to employ the disabled regardless of their business categories, even when they are losing money. Some corporations are active in hiring such workers, encouraging other employees to work harder, making their operations more efficient and coming up with results.

The health ministry faces a grave responsibility for turning a blind eye to this practice by other central government offices for so many years.

When it was revealed in 2014 that the predecessor to the Japan Organization of Occupational Health and Safety, an independent administrative institution overseen by the health ministry, padded the number of its disabled employees, the ministry filed a criminal complaint against three senior officials at the organization, and punished other officials involved with pay cuts and suspensions.

At that time, the ministry probed other independent administrative institutions in search of similar wrongdoing, but central government ministries and agencies were spared of the investigation. It is possible that the ministry did not check those offices because the ministry considered them as part of a family of central government bodies and went easy on them.

The health ministry is in charge of investigating the latest padding scandal, but politicians should take the lead in tackling the problem. One option is to convene the Diet for an emergency session to get to the bottom of the case.

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