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Gov't to probe reality of discretionary labor system after flawed data emerges

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Feb. 28, 2018, as the panel concludes deliberations on the fiscal 2018 state budget draft. (Mainichi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government will thoroughly investigate the state of the so-called discretionary labor system after abnormal figures were found in labor ministry data on the work hours of regular workers and those employed under such a system.

Abe told a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Feb. 28 that the government cannot go ahead with work-style reform, that includes the proposed expansion of the discretionary labor system, "unless the government can accurately grasp the state" of this labor framework, in response to questions by Seiji Osaka of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP).

With Abe's suggestion, the government's submission of a set of bills on work-style reform to the Diet is likely to be further delayed beyond mid-March as originally planned. Under such a labor system, employees, mostly highly professional workers, are paid based on fixed work hours instead of actual hours spent on the job.

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato indicated in the session that the ministry will redo the survey on work hours, based on which the flawed data was compiled, to gather accurate data, saying, "It's impossible to use the data we have now."

Meanwhile, Abe expressed regret over the flawed data, stating during the meeting, "I'm taking it seriously that the labor ministry's data was pointed out to be questionable and that we have to check the ministry data. It's regrettable that we've raised doubts among members of the public," he told the panel.

At a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga suggested that the bills, aimed at reforming the way people work, will be submitted to the Diet after examining the outcome of the investigation.

In a related development, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry announced in the panel meeting that an additional 57 cases of abnormal figures have been found in the data in question, bringing the total number of cases of suspicious figures to over 400. The ministry made the announcement in response to questions by CDP lawmaker Akiko Okamoto.

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