Akira Nagatsuma, second-in-command in the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), said in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun that he became "100 percent sure" that labor ministry data on work hours was flawed after examining relevant figures provided by the ministry. Excerpts of the interview follow.
Question: Why did you decide to grill the government over the data?
Answer: I pointed out problems involving the discretionary labor system (under which employees, mostly highly professional workers, are paid based on fixed work hours instead of actual hours spent on the job) in a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Jan. 29. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe replied that there is data showing that the work hours of those employed under the discretionary labor system can be shorter than those of regular workers. I read newspapers the following day and saw articles on Abe's response. I felt that the public could misunderstand that I was saying something unreasonable.
Q: So you thought you needed to probe the matter, didn't you?
A: Hosei University professor Mitsuko Uenishi, who is an expert on labor issues, pointed out irregularities in the data. Ms. Uenishi, lower house member Kazunori Yamanoi from the Party of Hope and I summoned a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry official in charge. I asked the official to show us the figures that the data was based on, but the official said documents recording such figures didn't exist. I said, "That's impossible," and the official said, "Well, they may actually exist." I asked the official to fax the documents and received a one-page document. When I looked at the document, I immediately noticed the data was incorrect.
Q: What was wrong?
A: The document showed that nine workers each worked at least 15 hours of overtime a day in addition to the legally set eight regular work hours a day. That would mean that they worked at least 23 hours a day. They would have died if they had actually done so. When I looked at the figures, I became 100 percent sure that the data was flawed.
Q: Did the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry notice that the data was flawed?
A: Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato was notified of the irregularities of the data on Feb. 7. I presume that the ministry official in charge thought, "The problem was known to Nagatsuma and Yamanoi," and reported the matter to the minister. A younger bureaucrat may have ended up erroneously faxing the document to us even though the official in charge had no intention of releasing the figures.
Q: Opposition parties cooperated with each other in grilling the government over the matter, didn't they?
A: Mr. Yamanoi also detected abnormal figures one after another. Whenever he pointed them out to the labor ministry, they admitted to all the problems. The ministry should've announced the irregularities after examining them on their own, but officials admitted to problems whenever opposition parties pointed them out. Such a practice continued up until the end.