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Tens of billions of yen in jobless benefits unpaid due to faulty labor ministry data: sources

Kyodo

The government has failed to pay tens of billions of yen in benefits such as unemployment insurance, affecting about 10 million people, due to the labor ministry’s publishing of faulty jobs data for the past 15 years, sources with knowledge of the matter said Thursday.

The ministry is considering retroactively paying the benefits, which would likely require the budget for the year beginning in April to be reworked to include the additional costs, the sources said.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare admitted that it had published the revised October edition of its monthly labor survey despite knowing that it had not collected enough data to ensure its accuracy.

Under existing rules, the ministry has to survey all business establishments with 500 or more employees in the country. But in Tokyo, it covered only a third of the roughly 1,400 firms that meet that criteria.

The practice is thought to have started in 2004, having been passed down among ministry officials for 15 years, the sources said.

The survey serves as a key indicator of the country’s employment conditions, covering over 30,000 business establishments across the country, also including selected ones with less than 500 workers. The data are used to calculate unemployment benefits.

Suspicions over a systematic cover-up have begun to arise, including the suspected use of specialized software to hide the fact that the sampling was not done correctly. The ministry is questioning officials who worked on the survey in the past.

Labor minister Takumi Nemoto is expected to explain details of the incident at a news conference Friday, according to a ruling party lawmaker.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday the government will decide whether to rework the fiscal 2019 budget after the ministry’s investigation.

“Of course, we should ensure the accuracy of statistics that form the basis of policymaking,” he told a news conference.

A draft of the budget was approved by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month and was to be deliberated in the upcoming Diet session.

The issue is likely to draw strong criticism from opposition lawmakers during the session, especially after fundamental flaws were found in the ministry’s work-hours survey last year, leading the government to ditch a portion of a labor reform bill that was eventually enacted.