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Labor minister removes senior official over latest 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 taken on Oct. 14, 2015. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Takumi Nemoto removed one of his senior bureaucrats on Feb. 1 after data collection problems were found in yet another important ministry statistical survey.

The new scandal over the Basic Survey on Wage Structure, in which ministry officials tried to keep the illicit data collection method secret, is expected to be a new target of criticism during the ongoing Diet session.

Nemoto removed Yasuyuki Onishi from the post of director-general in charge of statistics policy and placed him in the minister's secretariat.

The survey collects salary data by type of employment, years of service, and sex. The poll, one of the 56 fundamental statistics stipulated by the Statistics Act, can affect industrial accident insurance payments. A recent review found that the ministry sent out questions by mail although the collection plan submitted to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications called for direct visits to employers by staff. The internal affairs ministry oversees the nation's statistics.

The re-examination began after the labor ministry was found to have collected wages and work-hours data improperly for the Monthly Labor Survey for 15 years from 2004, causing payment shortfalls in work-related benefits totaling tens of billions of yen.

Labor ministry officials in charge of the wage structure survey were also found to have told the internal affairs ministry in December 2018 that they were considering shifting from visits to mail questionnaires, although the shift had already taken place. "The government had indicated that visits, which are a substantial burden on staff, would be replaced by mail or internet surveys. But we didn't imagine they had already made the switch," an internal affairs ministry official said.

Moreover, bars, cabarets and night clubs, which were supposed to be covered by the survey, were omitted. Labor ministry officials explain that those establishments were excluded apparently because collecting questionnaires was difficult. They also said that the improper activities "have been under way quite some time."

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party's Health, Labor and Welfare Division held a meeting on Jan. 31 on how to handle the issue, and many participants sought an independent third-party probe.

Meanwhile, survey data are not expected to be adjusted because they were deemed "largely acceptable" by the Statistics Commission of the internal affairs ministry on Jan. 30.

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