November 26th 2018
TOKYO — As many as 35 of Japan’s 47 prefectural governments exclude regular job applicants with mental or intellectual disabilities despite legal requirements protecting their being hired, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.
The finding comes on the heels of recent revelations that central and local government offices have padded the numbers of their disabled workers in a bid to meet legal standards for such workforce. The practice has been heavily criticized by groups of those with disabilities and their supporters as “unfair.”
The Mainichi Shimbun survey found that 35 prefectures including Hokkaido and those in the Tohoku region in the northern part of the country, Kansai in the west and Kyushu in the south hire only people with physical disabilities. The three prefecture of Saitama, north of Tokyo, Shizuoka in central Japan and Fukuoka in southern Japan accept applicants with physical and mental disabilities, while the four prefectures of Kyoto in the west and Aichi, Gifu and Mie in central Japan employ both people with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Only five prefectures — Tokyo, Kanagawa, south of the capital, Niigata in north central Japan and Tottori and Shimane in the western part of the country — hire people with all types of special needs as stipulated by the Act on Employment Promotion etc. of Persons with Disabilities.
Yamagata in northern Japan, where the ratio of workers with any kind of disability is low, states in its recruitment guidelines that the prefectural government only hires people with physical disabilities. Tokushima in western Japan stated similar limits. The prefectures of Fukushima in northern Japan and Fukui and Mie in central Japan explained that they are “promoting the employment of people with physical disabilities based on the spirit of the law.”
When asked about the reason for the limitations on the types of people with disabilities they hire, the prefectural governments of Toyama in central Japan and Kochi in the southwest responded that they have “no specific reason.” The Yamanashi Prefectural Government in central Japan answered that it is using the method “without reviewing the practice.” The southernmost prefecture of Okinawa said people with physical disabilities “can do similar jobs as ordinary workers in infrastructure development, but people with mental or intellectual disabilities are difficult to accommodate.”
Meanwhile, the government of the western prefecture of Tottori began expanding the types of applicants with disabilities whom it is hiring to those with mental and intellectual special needs in fiscal 2016. The prefecture was followed by Tokyo in fiscal 2017 and Kanagawa, Niigata and Shimane in fiscal 2018.
These practices by prefectural governments have drawn strong criticism from groups for people with disabilities, including the National Federation of Mental Health and Welfare Party in Japan. An official with the group said that there should be “ways to hire (people with mental or intellectual disabilities) such as enabling them to work from home.”
Lawyer Toshihiro Azuma, a specialist on issues for people with disabilities, argues that excluding people with specific disabilities in the employment process is “against the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of selection of occupation” and thus constitutes “unfair discriminatory treatment.”
Takanobu Nakajima, a professor of economics at Keio University, added, “What is important in the employment of people with disabilities are the quality of job, and the level of satisfaction of workers and a system to evaluate those factors.”
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare acknowledged that the way in which local governments handle the issue has differed from prefecture to prefecture. “But the door should be wide open from the perspective of fair employment of people with disabilities,” said an official at the ministry’s Employment Measures for Persons with Disabilities Division. The official added that the ministry will consult with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to review what can be done to tackle the issue .