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Companies, groups appalled by gov't padding of disabled employment rate

TOKYO -- The recent revelation that some government ministries have overstated the employment rate of people with disabilities at their offices for decades has ignited anger and disappointment among private companies and group representing the disabled.

"It's such a shame that government agencies, which are in a position to oversee (the employment of disabled persons), have committed such a wrongdoing," fumed an official in charge of personnel affairs and recruiting at a major manufacturer. Under the Act on Employment Promotion etc. of Persons with Disabilities, companies and central and local governments are required to hire a certain percentage of disabled persons at their offices -- a measure intended to create an inclusive society.

However, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications have basically admitted to inflating their employment rates of disabled people after failing to meet the legal target, while other ministries and agencies are also being probed for allegedly engaging in similar practices.

Every year, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare asks government agencies and companies to report the number of their disabled workers as of June 1. If a company fails to achieve the legal employment rate of such workers in a certain month over the preceding year, the firm is charged 50,000 yen for each person per month in principle, while subsidies are paid to firms that meet the target rate.

The major manufacturer whose official spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun has expanded its job categories for disabled employees and has provided training to them, in the belief that employment of disabled people promotes diversity that could lead to growth of the firm itself. Nevertheless, there are some months when the company cannot reach the target rate, and it has paid the due amounts to the government in such cases.

"I can't believe that government agencies have failed to report accurate figures (for their employment rates of disabled people). I want them to properly hire disabled workers now that the facts have come to light," said an official at the manufacturer.

Litalico Inc., a Tokyo-based company providing job placement assistance to people with disabilities, has proactively hired disabled workers at its own offices, to the extent of surpassing the legal target rate.

"Awareness among corporations is also changing, in the direction of promoting diverse work styles," said an official at the company. "I don't want employers to be prejudiced, thinking that their jobs may be too difficult for disabled workers, but instead think about the issues while listening to the opinions of support organizations and disabled people themselves."

Groups of disabled individuals have voiced outrage at the latest finding. Satoru Iehira, secretary-general of the incorporated nonprofit organization Nihon Shogaisha Center, said, "It is a serious problem that the government, which is supposed to be promoting an employment policy, has been involved in such misconduct. There are many people with disabilities who cannot get jobs even though they are eager to work. I wonder if the central government really has been serious about hiring such people."

Ken Udagawa, co-leader of incorporated nonprofit organization Community Mental Health & Welfare Bonding Organization, which provides support to people with mental disabilities, said, "It feels as if we've been taken lightly by the government, which should be spearheading initiatives to hire disabled workers. The finding makes me suspect that the government may have the wrong impression that disabled workers are useless."

In April this year, the legally required employment rate of disabled workers was raised from 2 percent to 2.2 percent for private companies, while the figure for central and local governments was increased from 2.3 percent to 2.5 percent. According to the labor ministry, as of June 1 last year, 50 percent of private enterprises had achieved the employment rate. The stated achievement rate at the central government, meanwhile, was 97 percent -- though the latest findings cast a shadow of doubt over the figure. Among 33 administrative agencies, the Personal Information Protection Commission was believed to be the only organization that failed to attain the goal, according to the ministry.

(Japanese original by Kim Sooryeon, City News Department, and Hiroyuki Harada, Medical Welfare News Department)

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