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New labor stats cover-up conducted by senior official in charge, says ministry

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 -- A senior labor ministry official in charge of statistics made a decision not to report problems with a wage survey in response to a government-wide review triggered by an earlier labor data scandal, ministry officials revealed on Feb. 1.

The head of the Employment, Wage and Labor Welfare Statistics Office at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare initiated the alleged cover-up of the problems with the Basic Survey on Wage Structure, according to the outcome of an in-house probe.

"It is clear that (the bureaucrat) had certain intentions by not reporting the problem," explained Masahiko Yamada, the ministry's deputy vice-minister in charge of human resources development, at a press conference at the ministry. "The cover-up was undeniably deliberate." Yamada added that the ministry will conduct a thorough probe and take punitive action.

The Basic Survey on Wage Structure collects data on wages by types and length of employment, and sex of workers. The labor ministry has already revealed that the poll was conducted in a way not specified in a plan submitted to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, which oversees the nation's statistics, as required by law. The survey plan called for direct visits to employers, but the ministry did not deploy staff and mailed questionnaires to the pollees instead. The ministry also failed to cover certain drinking establishments.

According to ministry officials, wage statistics officials were aware of the rule violations as early as 2006. The problem was reported to Yasuyuki Onishi, then director-general in charge of statistics policy in late December 2018, when the ministry was preparing revisions to the survey plan to include foreign workers as respondents as Japan will accept more overseas workers starting in April. Onishi also instructed the stats office chief to include a change to a mail survey to reflect the reality.

The office chief, however, did not reveal those problems to internal affairs ministry officials when he consulted with them about plan changes. Moreover, even when the office chief was instructed to review its key statistics including the basic wage survey due to another labor stats scandal, the senior bureaucrat chose not to mention those irregularities. The review covered all 56 fundamental statistics collected by government ministries and agencies.

"The survey plan revisions included adding foreign workers as poll targets, which absolutely had to be incorporated," the official was quoted as saying by ministry officials. "I was worried that if I reported the problems I would not be able to make the revision (regarding foreigners)."

The office chief wanted to explain to Onishi his intention not to report the irregularities, but did not get the opportunity, and didn't report the problem to the internal affairs ministry, either. Onishi found out that the problems were not included in the ministry's draft report for the government-wide statistics review when he was reviewing it on Jan. 25, and reported them to labor minister Takumi Nemoto and the internal affairs ministry.

The government-wide review of 56 fundamental statistics was ordered by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga after the labor ministry's Monthly Labor Survey was found to be based partly on an illicit data collection method, which caused tens of billions of yen in payment shortfalls for work-related benefits affecting tens of millions of people.

The internal affairs ministry revealed the results of the review on Jan. 24 which showed that 22 statistics collected by seven ministries had problems. It was only Jan. 28 that the labor ministry announced the problems with the basic wage survey.

The chief of the statistics office told the Mainichi Shimbun that they cannot answer questions because an investigation is ongoing.

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Kamiashi and Akira Okubo, City News Department; Hiroyuki Harada and, Medical & Welfare Department)

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