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Senior labor official says it took him 5 days to report on stat survey flaws

Yasuyuki Onishi, former director-general in charge of statistics policy at the labor ministry, answers a question at the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Feb. 8, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- A senior labor ministry official formerly in charge of statistics policy revealed at a Diet panel on Feb. 8 that it took him five days to report to his superiors a major problem with the ministry's wage statistics after he learned of the issue.

The revelation by Yasuyuki Onishi at the House of Representatives Budget Committee offered yet another example of a bureaucratic delay in handling the problem with the Monthly Labor Survey of wages and working hours. An improper data collection method used in the survey for 15 years since 2004 has resulted in tens of billions of yen in payment shortfalls for work-related benefits affecting tens of millions of people.

Onishi told the Diet panel as an unsworn witness that he was first told about the problem by a statistics office chief on Dec. 13 last year, but did not report it to top officials of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare until Dec. 18. The problem was made public on Jan. 8 by labor minister Takumi Nemoto, 11 days after it was first reported by the press on Dec. 28.

Onishi said that he passed on the information about the problem to Toshihiko Suzuki, administrative vice-minister of the ministry, on Dec. 19. Details of the issue -- including the fact that no statistical adjustments had been made to data collected in the wrong way -- were shared by ministry leaders by that day. In the monthly survey, the ministry covered only about one-third of employers with 500 workers or more in Tokyo although it was supposed to collect data from all companies of that size.

Onishi first reported the problem to minister Nemoto on Dec. 20 with Akira Miyakawa, assistant vice-minister. The labor ministry, however, went ahead and announced the results of the October results of the monthly survey -- including unadjusted data -- the next day. On the same day, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a draft budget for fiscal 2019. This draft later had to be revised and reapproved to incorporate overdue work-related benefit payments that were required because of the labor statistics scandal.

Nemoto explained that he only realized the need to update the draft budget on Jan. 10, the eve of a press conference in which he apologized for the problem.

Meanwhile, Onishi said that his Feb. 1 dismissal as director-general in charge of statistics policy was due to an illicit act associated with another labor statistics announcement on Jan. 28.

The ruling bloc had strongly resisted the opposition's call for Onishi to stand as a witness in the budget committee, triggering criticism that the ruling parties were trying to cover up the scandal by blocking testimony by a key figure in the case.

(Japanese original by Yusuke Matsukura, Political News Department)

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