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Support groups feel 'betrayed' over gov't padding of disabled employee figures

Representatives from organizations for those with disabilities, left, and legislators, right background, listen to an explanation from officials of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, right foreground, at a joint hearing on the padding scandal at the National Diet in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Aug. 28, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The finding that government organizations' padded of the number of employees with disabilities by 3,460 people has highlighted problems with the system and working environment for disabled people, say some organizations supporting disabled people.

Insiders have testified that in some cases government offices deliberately counted employees falsely as having disabilities. Organizations representing disabled people as well as companies that are also required to employ more disabled people say they were "betrayed," and that if such padding had occurred at private companies, people would be fired.

Saitama Municipal Assembly member Hiromi Denda, who heads a nationwide group of assembly members and others promoting disabled people's self-reliance and participation in politics, angrily stated that national government organizations "dashed the hopes of some 3,460 people with disabilities who might've become national government officials." Denda uses a wheelchair because she has limited use of her arms and legs as the result of a childhood illness.

"The basic problem is that an environment that allows those without disabilities to coexist with those with disabilities hasn't been created," she said, in response to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare report on the scandal that was released Aug. 28.

Hiroshi Yamashita, secretary-general of an incorporated NPO in the Saitama Prefecture city of Koshigaya promoting disabled people's participation in the workforce, pointed out that the scandal shed light on problems with the system under which government organizations report the ratio of officials with disabilities to their total workforce.

"Administrative organizations that are supposed to set good examples padded the figures. It's outrageous," he said. "The incident has highlighted problems with the system that allows government offices to fix numbers. It's necessary to not just look at figures but also examine the employment situation of people with disabilities and their working environment."

Furthermore, concerns have been raised that wrongdoing may be rampant with regard to systems aimed at supporting disabled people besides the inflating of the number of government employees with disabilities.

Masahiro Tanaka, who leads a group comprising intellectually disabled people and their families, urges government organizations to confirm whether various systems supporting people with disabilities are being utilized in line with their respective purposes.

The business community is also furious about the padding scandal. "The government, which has been promoting the employment of people with disabilities, was involved in padding on such a major scale. It's unbelievable," said a senior official of a major bank.

Private companies are required to have employees with disabilities account for at least 2.2 percent of their workforce under the Act on Employment Promotion etc. of Persons with Disabilities. Businesses are mandated to report the number of disabled workers they employ as of June 1 each year to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and those that fail to achieve the target are slapped with a fine of 50,000 yen per person short of the goal per month. An independent administrative institution also examines private companies' employment of disabled people once every three years.

Under these circumstances, businesses are trying to raise the rate of those with disabilities in their workforces. The aforementioned bank has established subsidiaries to employ disabled people.

The ratio of those with disabilities to the entire workforce at Fast Retailing Co., which operates the Uniqlo casual clothing chain, came to 5.28 percent this year, far above the 2.2 percent legally required minimum rate.

"We repeatedly interview employees with disabilities to assess their strengths and needs before assigning them work," a company official said. "To employees who have limited use of their legs, we assign jobs they can perform while sitting, and workers with hearing difficulties wear identification tags indicating their disability to gain customers' understanding."

The proportion of those with disabilities within the entire workforce at private companies hit a record high for 14 consecutive years up to 2017. Over half of companies achieved the legally required ratio last year for the first time in 19 years.

An executive of a large electric appliance manufacturer urges the government to get to the bottom of the government-wide scandal. "If a private company did the same thing, someone would be held responsible and dismissed. Government ministries and agencies intentionally padded figures. Administrative bodies should clarify the cause of the wrongdoing," said the executive.

(Japanese original by Akane Imamura and Ryo Yanagisawa, Business News Department)

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