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Labor ministry may have systematically covered up wage data survey changes

This undated file photo shows the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

TOKYO -- The labor ministry falsely reported to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in 2016 that its monthly labor statistics was to be based on a comprehensive poll of businesses hiring 500 or more employees -- in spite of the fact that the ministry had been surveying only a sample of such employers in the capital from 2004.

The bogus explanation emerged from among documents held by the internal affairs ministry. The revelation comes amid a scandal in which the change to the statistical methods used by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry for the monthly labor survey resulted in tens of billions of yen in unpaid work-related insurance benefits.

The labor ministry's papers in question did not contain any individual ministry staffers' names, but were submitted to the internal affairs ministry on Oct. 27, 2016, under the name of the health minister, a post then held by Yasuhisa Shiozaki of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

At a meeting of the LDP's Health, Labor and Welfare Division on Jan. 15, the internal affairs ministry pointed out that the labor ministry's switch to the sampling survey method from the complete one in 2004 without obtaining approval from the internal affairs minister, as well as the ministry's data adjustment starting from the January 2018 survey, "could constitute a violation of the Statistics Act." The latest revelation suggests that the labor ministry may have systematically covered up the statistical method change.

According to internal affairs ministry papers, the labor ministry's documents in question were submitted by its Employment, Wage and Labor Welfare Statistics Office. At a subcommittee meeting of the internal affairs ministry's Statistics Commission, the then counsellor in charge at the labor ministry, who was in the division director position, had explained that it would continue a complete survey.

Officials at the internal affairs ministry say the Statistics Act requires approval from the internal affairs minister when the survey methods for the government's fundamental statistics such as the monthly labor survey are to be changed.

In response to the scandal, the labor ministry is poised to hold the first meeting of an in-house inspection team including lawyers on Jan. 17 to unravel how and why the inappropriate survey procedures were initiated, as well as who were involved.

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi, City News Department)

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