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Ministry changed labor survey method without informing prefectural officials

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 -- The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare did not inform at least three prefectural governments of changes to an important monthly labor survey, contradicting its Jan. 11 explanation that it had, interviews with relevant officials have found.

The finding came on the heels of a scandal in which the change in the statistical methods used by the labor ministry in conducting the monthly labor poll caused 56.7 billion yen in unpaid social insurance benefits for 19.7 million people. The survey, used to calculate unemployment benefits and workers' compensation, was required to cover all employers hiring 500 or more people, but the ministry sampled only around one-third of them in Tokyo starting in 2004 until the controversial practice came to light in December 2018.

According to officials of the prefectural governments of Kanagawa, Aichi and Osaka, the ministry sent them lists of employers to be covered by a new round of the survey from January 2019 that did not include around 10 percent of the employers that had been tallied in earlier surveys. Moreover, the lists were sent under the name of a "counselor attached to the director general," suggesting that the improper sampling method was recognized by the ministry as an organization. The prefectural officials said the data and a document explaining how to conduct paperwork on the survey came to them by email or mail on June 27, 2018.

In the case of Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, some 30 of the approximately 300 employers that had been surveyed in the past were not included in the list. For Aichi Prefecture, in central Japan, the omitted figure was about 10 percent of some 400 companies, while for Osaka Prefecture in western Japan, the list excluded some 60 of the roughly 370 originally required corporations. Prefectural officials realized by closely examining the data that the ministry was switching from a complete survey to a sampling poll.

After the improper survey problem emerged in December last year, additional lists containing employers excluded from the earlier data in question were sent from the ministry to those prefectural officials.

"No reason was mentioned, but it was my understanding that they decided to cancel the shift to a sampling poll," an Osaka prefectural official told the Mainichi Shimbun. Kanagawa and Osaka officials said they had asked the ministry to "ease the burden" of carrying out the survey. Officials of all three prefectures said that they never asked the ministry to do a sampling survey.

--- Statistics Act violation suggested

Meanwhile, a Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications official told a meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) Health, Labor and Welfare Division on Jan. 15 that the improper survey methods "may constitute a violation of the Statistics Act." The labor ministry will convene a meeting of internal inspectors on Jan. 17, and try to identify the officials involved in the scandal.

According to the internal affairs ministry, the law requires changes in the methods of fundamental statistics such as the monthly labor survey to be approved by the internal affairs minister. But the labor ministry did not receive such approval. Nevertheless, the improper sampling began in 2004 and a data adjustment method was introduced in January 2018. The law provides for the makers of false reports to a prison sentence of up to six months or a fine of 500,000 yen or less.

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi, City News Department, Tatsuya Michinaga, Nagoya News Center, Toru Tsukui, Osaka City News Department, and Kazuhiko Hori, Yokohama Bureau)

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