Reports that central government organizations have for decades been padding their hiring rates for people with disabilities — when in fact they failed to employ enough such people to meet the legally required quotas — are appalling. The law for promoting the employment of people with disabilities aims to end discrimination against such people and expand job opportunities for them by requiring that they make up at least a certain portion of the workforce at government organs and private sector companies. The mandatory rates are higher for national and local government bodies because they are supposed to set examples for the private sector. Officials need to review their practices to see if what they have been doing serves the purpose of the system.

Under the law, every national and local government organization is required to employ people with disabilities — in principle those officially certified as having physical, mental or intellectual disabilities — to account for 2.5 percent of the staff on its regular payroll (with the ratio gradually raised to reach that level in April). Records show that as of June last year, 33 administrative organs of the national government, including ministries and agencies, together hired some 6,900 people with disabilities, accounting for 2.49 percent of their workforce on average.

However, suspicions have surfaced that roughly 10 ministries and agencies have in fact padded their figures by including in their head counts personnel with relatively mild disabilities who do not carry official certificates. Details will have to wait for an ongoing probe by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, but the practice at these organizations has reportedly been going on since the 1970s, when employment of people with disabilities for a set portion of the workforce became mandatory. If people with mild disabilities are not counted, the employment rate at many of the ministries and agencies is believed to be less than 1 percent.

Currently, private sector firms that hire 45.5 or more workers (with an employee working reduced hours counted as half) are required to fill at least 2.2 percent of their total staff with people with disabilities. A company with 100 or more employees that does not meet the quota will be fined ¥50,000 a month for each slot for personnel with disabilities that it left unfilled. Companies that fail to meet the minimum employment rate may have their names publicized.

The number of people with disabilities on the payroll of private sector firms reached a record 496,000 last year, although the average employment rate was still 1.97 percent. Only about half the companies under the obligation to employ workers with disabilities have cleared the minimum rate. While larger companies lead in hiring people with disabilities, smaller firms with limited staff often find it difficult to meet the mandatory quota. There is still a long way to go in the effort to promote employment of people with disabilities, so that they can work to fulfil their wishes and potential irrespective of their disabilities.

The revelations of malpractice in government organizations is all the more disappointing because they are supposed to be leading the effort. The health ministry is said to have learned of the practice at ministries and agencies in May after it was alerted by the Finance Ministry over the potential problems. So far, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry and the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry have confirmed to the media that they have been padding the number of people with disabilities on their payroll. It has not been made clear what motivated the organizations to do so. There are reports that it’s difficult for the central government bureaucracy to hire large numbers of people with disabilities because many of their staff are subject to long working hours (including the hours in which they are kept on standby) and have to be able to respond to emergency situations. But that should not be an excuse for the public sector to be governed under a different set of rules than the private sector.

Each of the national government organizations regularly report to the health ministry the number of people with disabilities on its staff. However, there is reportedly no mechanism in place to verify the data coming from the organizations. A system should be considered for penalizing government organizations that fail to meet the employment target — as is imposed on the private sector firms that fall short. The revelation of government malpractice in the mandatory employment of people with disabilities should trigger more discussions on what’s needed to promote hiring of these people so they can give full play to their potential in the nation’s workforce.

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