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Abe denies ordering survey with doctored data on overwork problem

  • February 20, 2018
  • , Kyodo News , 04:44 p.m.
  • English Press

TOKYO – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied Tuesday involvement by himself or his office in a controversial survey which opposition parties claim was aimed at making a governmental proposal look like a system that could improve Japan’s overwork problem.


Speaking at a House of Representatives Budget Committee session, Abe said, “Neither I nor my (office) staff ordered” the labor ministry to compile the data in question, while apologizing for the 2013 survey in response to a question from Akira Nagatsuma of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.


Abe’s remarks came as the ruling parties have been under fire in the Diet over an envisioned bill to expand the “discretionary labor” system under which employees are given a fixed number of overtime hours and are paid on the assumption they worked those hours.


Opposition parties are stepping up their offensive against labor minister Katsunobu Kato, criticizing his ministry for “deliberately manipulating the data.”


Last week, Abe retracted his remarks made to the same committee in late January and apologized as the reliability of the data, which were in support of expanding the discretionary labor system, came into doubt.


Nagatsuma, the acting leader of the largest opposition force in the lower house, asked Abe whether he had provided a false answer to parliament, but Abe said he just answered based on the ministry’s report.


“I withdraw my remarks that were based on the information under scrutiny, but I didn’t withdraw the data itself,” Abe added.


The discretionary labor system is currently only applicable in certain business fields, but the proposed working practices reform bill would expand its application.


The government says it would lead to a more flexible working environment, with business lobbies in favor of it. But the system also means any further overtime is unpaid. Opposition parties, including those supported by labor unions, argue it could worsen the problem of overwork, which has led to cases of suicide and other deaths.


Abe expressed his intention not to change the government’s original plan to submit the bill to the ongoing Diet session, in response to Nagatsuma’s call for dropping the idea.


The contentious survey on working hours conducted in 2013 by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said the average worker on a discretionary labor contract generally works shorter hours than one on a conventional contract.


But the survey was called into question as it was found to have been conducted on workers on a discretionary labor contract and those on a conventional contract under different conditions, prompting the Abe government to admit the data were inappropriate.

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