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Gov't employment rate of disabled halved after probe into padding

The Central Government Building No. 5 in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is seen in this file photo taken on Oct. 14, 2015. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The government said Tuesday the actual percentage of disabled people hired by its ministries and agencies last year was about half the previously announced 2.49 percent, following a probe into data padding allegations that came to light earlier this month.

As of June 1, 2017, 33 national administrative entities said they employed around 6,900 people with disabilities, with the hiring percentage exceeding the then target rate of 2.3 percent. But the investigation confirmed that 27 of them had inflated the number by 3,460 and that the actual rate was 1.19 percent on average.

The data manipulation furor could spread further as similar cases have also been reported in local municipalities, including prefectural police headquarters, prompting the central government to launch a nationwide probe.

"Such cases should not have happened as the governmental entities are supposed to take an initiative in increasing employment of the disabled and widening areas in which they can actively take part," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday at a meeting involving relevant ministers.

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

The top spokesman also said the government will compile preventive measures and come up with ways to meet the legal quota by the end of October. The data padding practice is alleged to have continued for the past 40 years.

Among the 33 entities, the National Tax Agency inflated the biggest number of disabled employees with 1,020, followed by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry with 600 and the Justice Ministry with 540.

In many cases, the ministries and agencies have overstated the numbers of disabled employees without checking disability certificates or medical reports issued by designated doctors based on the labor ministry's guidelines.

Such padding practices may have been conducted because it was difficult to hire disabled people for government posts due to factors such as long working hours as well as time needed to prepare for Diet sessions and other unexpected assignments, government sources have said.

Labor minister Katsunobu Kato said it is difficult to judge only from the probe results whether the numbers were overstated intentionally or by a lack of understanding by ministry officials of the system.

At a press conference, Kato said a fresh investigation by a third-party including lawyers will be conducted.

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

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare raised this April the mandatory employment rate for the public sector by 0.2 percentage point from 2.3 percent.

If a company with more than 100 employees fails to reach the target rate, a fine of up to 50,000 yen ($450) per employee shortfall per month is charged and in some cases its name is disclosed, while such a rule is not applied to the public entities.

The labor ministry requires government agencies and private companies to report employment rates of the disabled as of June 1 every year.

In June this year, the labor ministry began investigating ministries and agencies over the alleged routine practice dating back to 1976 after receiving several inquiries since April about how to calculate the employment rates of disabled people.

Families and supporters of disabled people voiced frustration and anger after the government released the results of the probe.

Masahiro Tanaka, who manages a nationwide group comprised of people with intellectual disabilities and their families, said disabled people "lost their rights" that they could have had for employment, given the actual hiring rate was below the target.

Hiroshi Ariyama, who heads a nonprofit organization supporting disabled people in Saitama Prefecture, criticized the government for "doing irresponsible things."

"It doesn't make sense even if they claim they didn't have a full understanding of the system," he added.

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