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Ministry used manual OK'ing inappropriate data collection behind benefit underpayments

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/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Labor ministry officials made and shared a manual permitting inappropriate methods of data collection for job statistics that led to the ministry's underpayment of an estimated 56.75 billion yen in benefits dating back to 2004, ministry officials revealed on Jan. 11.

Underpayment of the work-related benefits such as unemployment insurance affected some 19.73 million people.

Officials acknowledged that some ministry employees realized illicit data collection methods were being used, but said these methods "were not shared by the entire organization."

Labor Minister Takumi Nemoto, who apologized for the problem at a press conference on Jan. 11, said he did not believe there was any organizational attempt to hide the wrongdoing. He nevertheless indicated his intention to pinpoint the motive behind the inappropriate data collection and punish those responsible.

For unemployment insurance, each affected person was underpaid 1,400 yen on average. The labor ministry plans to pay the overdue amount to the recipients, but physical address data for more than 10 million such people are apparently not available. The ministry will try to reach out to those who are entitled to additional payments by posting notices on its website and other locations.

Labor ministry rules state that job statistic surveys must cover all companies with 500 or more employees. However, when surveying Tokyo, the ministry included only about 500 of the 1,400 or so firms of this size in the figures from 2004. As a result, data on pay and other items fell short of actual figures by 0.6 percent on average. This data is used to calculate unemployment insurance and other work-related benefits, and as a result recipients were underpaid.

The jobs statistic problems were first identified last December by officials at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry in charge of government statistics, who pointed out irregularities in data for companies with 500 or more employees for 2017 and 2018. Labor ministry officials then told Kiyohiko Nishimura, chairman of the Internal Affairs Ministry's Statistics Commission., that they were not conducting a comprehensive survey. Nishimura responded that it was a "big problem," according to labor ministry officials.

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi and Kazuki Mogami, City News Department)

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