Half of ‘disabled’ workers at central government institutions were miscounted: labor minister

by Sarah Suk

Staff Writer

Half of workers hired by central government institutions based on a measure to promote the employment of people with disabilities did not qualify under guidelines for the measure as of June 1 last year, the government announced Tuesday.

With part-timers counted as a fractional value, of a head count of 6,867.5 reported hires by ministries and agencies under the program, 3,460 did not meet the guidelines. The revision lowers the overall employment rate for those with recognized disabilities at these organizations to 1.19 percent from 2.49 percent. The statutory target employment rate for central government at the time was 2.3 percent.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry compiled the figures after re-examining 33 government institutions, following revelations that the numbers had been inflated, and irregularities were found at 27 of them. Twenty-six of the entities failed to meet the then-statutory employment rate, which was subsequently raised to 2.5 percent in April this year.

The National Tax Agency had the largest number of erroneously reported hires, at 1,022.5, followed by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry with 603.5 and the Justice Ministry at 539.5.

Labor minister Katsunobu Kato said he reported the survey findings to a meeting of related ministers chaired by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga earlier Tuesday morning.

“It is truly regrettable that this situation has arisen despite (the government) being responsible for securing and stabilizing employment for the disabled, and in a position to take the lead in hiring people with disabilities as an example for private businesses,” Kato told a news conference.

“I offer my deep apologies as (head of the ministry) tasked with promoting measures to employ persons with disabilities,” he added.

Suga similarly apologized at a separate news conference, saying he and related ministers would come up with countermeasures by mid-October.

In the meantime Kato will head an intergovernmental panel to address specific issues, including the reinforcement of checks to make sure such reporting errors will not be repeated. Plans will also be put together in order for the government to meet the legally specified employment rate for public institutions.

The minister said he will also seek the cooperation of the internal affairs minister to examine cases at regional public organizations where similar problems have also come to light.

“It is difficult to determine at this point whether the cases resulted from deliberate actions or from misunderstanding” the system, the minister said, adding that an inspection team, which also involves third-party members such as lawyers, will be set up within the panel to look into the causes.

Experts suspect the inflated reporting of hires with disabilities became rampant due to pressure to achieve the statutory employment rate, which for public organizations is 0.3 percentage point higher than that for private firms, amid expectations for the government to serve as a role model for companies.

“Frankly, I feel that this is a quite terrible deception,” Takanobu Nakajima, professor of economics at Keio University, said of the incorrect numbers. “But if we look at what lies behind it, it doesn’t do any good to simply attack the government offices.”

Nakajima, who spent 20 months working at the Cabinet Office in an exchange program about 10 years ago, explained that it is difficult not just for public entities but also the private sector to secure meaningful employment for the disabled, with both striving to fulfill the respective statutory rates that have risen gradually since the measure was first put in place in 1976.

The expansion of the scope of disabilities recognized under the measure, which began with physical disabilities and went on to include intellectual and mental disabilities, has also made it tough for employers to create appropriate jobs for the disabled while workplaces become increasingly streamlined, he said.

He also noted the possibility of hiring managers broadly interpreting the labor ministry’s policy, which says those with disability certificates or medical examination reports “in principle” should be counted as employees with disabilities.

Makoya Kageyama, professor of urban and regional policy at Yokohama City University, called for a clear-cut system with periodic checks by the ministry to make sure offices have copies of their workers’ disability or medical certificates.

Katsunori Fujii, representative of the Japan Council on Disability, said in a statement released Monday that central and regional governments have betrayed the people by failing to observe the law.

He says that the government should fully investigate and bring to light the facts surrounding the illegal activities, and build a realistic, full-fledged and transparent verification system that also involves representatives of organizations for the disabled.

Tomohiro Osaki contributed to this report