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Labor ministry to be ordered to recount data after labor stats scandal

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 -- A Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications panel decided on Jan. 30 to order the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to correct labor data from 2004 through 2011 that was deemed corrupted due to the use of incorrect sampling methods.

"The data is important for statistics on wages and working hours, and cannot be substituted by other surveys," said Chairman Kiyohiko Nishimura of the internal affairs ministry's Statistics Commission. "There is a need to ensure continuity (of the data)." He expressed the panel's intent to avoid not having proper fundamental statistics for the eight-year period the Monthly Labor Survey inappropriately collected data. The ministry and the commission are responsible for overseeing government statistics.

The data in question was gathered by the labor ministry in an improper manner for 15 years, starting in 2004, and caused tens of billions of yen in payment shortfalls for work-related benefits that affected tens of millions of people.

Labor ministry officials in charge checked only one-third of Tokyo employers with 500 or more workers, even though it was required for them to survey all such companies. The labor data scandal, which emerged in late December, has attracted fierce criticism against the ministry and the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as the survey is one of the fundamental statistics used by the government for policy decisions.

Previously, it was considered difficult to adjust the corrupted data for the period from 2004 to 2011. This is because some of necessary materials for recalculation have gone missing or been discarded.

However, Nishimura told a Jan. 30 meeting of this Statistics Commission that it is "important to recount data (in a manner) that can be considered acceptable." Other panel members echoed the chairman's view, and now the labor ministry will try to go ahead with recalculating data. The ministry had already completed the procedure for figures gathered after 2012.

The internal affairs statistics panel additionally gave approval to the labor ministry's resumption of data collection from some 1,000 companies starting this coming June that had been excluded from the Monthly Labor Survey.

Meanwhile, the labor ministry's third-party special inspection commission probing the data problem held a closed meeting on Jan. 30. Members agreed that the presence of ministry officials during interviews of ministry employees involved in the scandal to keep record "did not affect the questioning," according to people with knowledge of the meeting. Past questioning by ministry officials, including senior officials, met harsh criticism for possibly affecting the objective nature of the third-party investigation.

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

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