National / Politics

Change to labor survey method was conveyed to government spokesman Yoshihide Suga in 2015

JIJI

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Friday that he was informed of a change to the method for the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s monthly labor survey by a senior ministry official in March 2015.

While noting that his memory of the matter is not perfect, Suga quoted a former aide as saying the ministry explained to him that it would hear opinions from experts about differences that appear in the results of the labor survey every few years due to a complete replacement of sample businesses covered by the statistics.

The ministry made data adjustments for the survey from January 2018, without disclosing them, and year-on-year changes in nominal wages turned out rosier than they actually were as a result.

Opposition parties believe that the labor survey irregularities reflected the intention of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration to exaggerate the government-claimed achievements of Abenomics, his economic policy mix.

The opposition plans to grill the Abe administration over the statistics scandal during intensive deliberations at a meeting of the Budget Committee of the Lower House on Monday.

Meanwhile, Motoya Nakae, a former aide to Abe, told a Lower House Budget Committee meeting Friday that his notification to the labor ministry in 2015 of the “recognition of issues” with the monthly labor survey was not intended to press the ministry to adopt an inappropriate surveying method.

Nakae, now director-general of the Finance Ministry’s Customs and Tariff Bureau, admitted he communicated a “recognition of issues” when he was told by the ministry on March 31, 2015, that a planned reshuffle of sample businesses could greatly affect the survey’s results.

Hiranao Honda of the major opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan argued that bureaucrats could feel pressure to dress up the data if they are told by an aide to the prime minister about such awareness of issues.

Nakae claimed that at the time he meant to underscore the need to consider the possibility of improving the labor survey to make it better reflect actual economic conditions.

He said he understood that a change in sample companies was a technical issue and that he thus stopped short of reporting this matter to Abe.

The labor ministry established a task force on improving the survey in June 2015, some two months after it reported the change in method to the administration.

According to task force meeting records, Takeshi Anezaki, then chief of the ministry’s statistics and information division, said that wage movements were closely watched as one of the achievements of Abenomics.

At a task force meeting in September 2015, Anezaki said the ministry aimed to study a method to partially reshuffle businesses covered by the survey.

Nakae told Friday’s Budget Committee meeting that he has no memory of having received a report on the results of the study.