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Ministry raised no. of mid-size firms in 2004 labor survey, creating possible ripple effect

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. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare increased the number of mid-sized companies included in monthly labor statistics in the capital in 2004, the same year it changed its method of collecting data from surveying all firms with 500 or more workers to mere random sampling, according ministry officials.

The newly emerged problem adds to the data-corruption scandal over the Monthly Labor Survey on wages and working hours, which has led to many receiving less than the appropriate amount for employment insurance and work-related injury payment. As with the change to random sampling of larger companies, the labor ministry also did not inform the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of the increase in the inclusion of data from companies hiring between 30-499 workers as required.

The move was reportedly made to statistically correct an earlier problem with the number of covered companies, which was lower than the planned number submitted to the internal affairs ministry before 2003. The ministry applied statistical adjustments to the data so that they would be closer to the results using a correct collection method. Still, this method was not cleared by the internal affairs ministry, making it improper, and the ministry does not know how or when the practice began.

A labor ministry official in charge at that time testified about the change to a special inspection panel in charge of handling the scandal. The individual said they believe the 2004 addition of more employers with under 500 workers led to the shift the same year from a poll of all companies with over 500 employees to a random sample of those businesses. It was intended as an "adjustment" because the increase in covered employers hiring between 30-499 workers "would increase the burden on prefectural governments," which were doing the actual data collection work.

Some 20.15 million people are estimated to have been shortchanged a total of 56.75 billion yen or more on unemployment and other benefits over a 15-year period beginning in fiscal 2004.

The Diet committees on health, labor and welfare of both the House of Representatives and House of Councillors began an out-of-session deliberation over the data scandal on Jan. 24. There, labor minister Takumi Nemoto said that the ministry will pay the overdue benefits such as unemployment insurance, industrial accident insurance and mariners insurance to those currently receiving such payments from March to June.

However, the majority of those who were given incorrect amounts were those paid in the past, and when their cases will be handed is unknown.

(Japanese original by Akira Okubo and Shunsuke Kamiashi, City News Department)

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