Several prefectural governments and central government ministries have admitted to inflating the number of disabled employees by failing to follow national Health Ministry guidelines, sparking further public outrage over the government’s handling of administrative duties.
The Ministry of Health’s national guidelines were created in 2005 to curb discrimination against and employment barriers for people with disabilities. But 22 ministries and agencies confessed to employing workers without asking to see official documentation, instead determining a candidate’s disability from either a self-declared illness or a physical handicap that had not been properly diagnosed. Meanwhile, workers who developed a disability during employment were included in the disability hiring quota without verifying the extent of the disability through official certification.
Under Japanese law, central and local governments are obligated to fill 2.5 percent of their overall workforce with people with disabilities. Businesses must meet a quota of 2.2 percent. The biggest irony is the higher disability employment quota for governments was intended to serve as positive role model for the private sector.
The opposition has called out the current practice as “outrageous” and a prime example of government officials cutting corners without sufficient checks and balances. Critics also says this is an example of government departments being easy on one another while being hard on the private sector.
The assistant director of the General Affairs Department explained they had misinterpreted the national guidelines by believing they could judge if a candidate had a disability without an official certificate in cases of obvious handicaps such as prosthetic eyes, hearing aids, artificial dialysis, and pacemakers. He said many government organizations hesitated in verifying documentation due to the delicate nature of inquiring about a prospective candidate’s disability.
Overall, 33 national administrative agencies that had boasted about meeting the quota are now estimated to have hired less than 1 percent of disabled workers. The Toyama Police Headquarters is just one of the government-affiliated agencies being exposed for hiring below the legal quota for over a decade.
While prefectural governments are being tight-lipped in admitting to falsifying numbers, they have acknowledged making mistakes in their hiring calculations stretching back as far as 1976 — when disability hiring rates became mandatory.
The General Affairs Department cited clumsiness with paperwork and insufficient understanding of laws as the reason behind the negligent (not to mention illegal) employment practices. But critics say the motive behind falsifying employment rates at the central government level could lie in the difficulty of hiring suitable workers to tackle long working hours and unexpected deadlines and assignments for Diet sessions.
The Labor Ministry has gained a reputation for imposing strict penalties for companies that don’t meet the legal requirements during the annual reporting of employment percentages on June 1 every year. For companies with over 100 workers, a $451 fine per employee per month is imposed until the balance of 2.2 percent is corrected. Companies are reeling over the extent of the double standards after the legal employment quota for disabled people was increased by 0.2 percent in April.
Suspicions arose in June when the Labor Ministry received repeated queries on how to calculate the disability employment rate. The results from the investigation on central government employment practices will be announced on August 28 in the lower house.