Govt must conduct strict probe to clear doubts over labor statistics

The Yomiuri ShimbunTo restore confidence in government statistics, it is essential to uncover the truth behind the realities of inappropriately conducted surveys and make all-out efforts to prevent a case similar to the latest misconduct. The government must act on this with sincerity.

Basic interpellations have started at the House of Representatives Budget Committee regarding such matters as a second supplementary budget for fiscal 2018. Diet members from the ruling and opposition parties took up the problem of inappropriate monthly labor surveys.

In reference to supplemental payments in employment insurance and other services, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Takumi Nemoto said that notices will be sent to current recipients about the shortfalls in their benefits, starting in March. A total of more than 20 million people will be eligible for supplemental benefits, including those to be paid under workers’ accident compensation insurance.

There will likely be delays in making supplemental payments to past recipients. To ensure such payments are made without fail, the labor ministry must confirm their addresses and make other necessary endeavors.

Opposition Diet members pressed the government for answers regarding the survey method involved. If there had been no manipulation aimed at making changes to the list of places of business to be covered by the labor survey last year, they argued, real wages would have recorded negative growth in most months.

“If, from the beginning, attempted falsification is a foregone conclusion no matter what, it’s impossible to promote accurate discussions,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe replied.

Replacing some surveyed places with new ones is a standard method based on a basic plan for labor statistics. The purpose of considering the realities of new places of business is reasonable.

Examine ministry conduct

It should be noted that labor statistics are only one factor to be considered in assessing economic conditions. The government and the ruling and opposition parties should calmly analyze the merits and demerits of the Abenomics economic policy and debate what an economic policy should be like from a broader perspective.

It has come to light that there is also a problem with the basic wage structure survey aimed at studying such items as employment patterns of workers and the realities of wages paid in accordance with the length of employment. The survey is supposed to be conducted through on-site visits to business facilities by researchers, who should hand out survey forms to business operators and collect them. Beginning 13 years ago, however, such procedures had been carried out only through mail.

The chief of a section in charge of that survey had hidden from the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry the fact that the research had been conducted by mail. It is possible to see that the move was intended to conceal the misconduct. A director general for statistical policy who neglected to report that fact has been removed from his position.

Although there is good reason for senior officials in charge to take responsibility, the labor ministry’s duty of achieving accountability must not be forgotten.

Why was the survey method replaced with the mail-in research? Budgetary appropriations involved had been made on the assumption that the survey is conducted through on-site visits by researchers. Were the budgets properly executed? The ministry should strictly investigate these matters.

A total of 13 people have served as labor minister since 2004, when the inappropriate labor surveys started, but no one was able to perceive the problem. How should the labor ministry be appropriately governed as a huge government office? That is also an issue to be addressed in the future.

Work style reform-related legislation will take effect in April. The acceptance of foreign workers will be expanded as well. No delays must be made in implementing important policies under the pressure of work to clear up the mess arising from the irregularities. The labor ministry should quickly get back on its feet.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 5, 2019)Speech


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