Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe vows to delete a key part of planned labor reform legislation at a session of the Upper House Budget Committee on March 1. (Takeshi Iwashita)

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on March 1 pledged to delete a key part of planned labor reform legislation that critics say was based on flawed data and would lead to further abuses of workers.

His decision to retract the introduction of the “discretionary working system” to more work sectors was announced at an Upper House Budget Committee session after weeks of attacks in the Diet from the opposition bloc about a dubious labor ministry survey cited by the prime minister.

Late at night on Feb. 28, Abe relayed his decision to labor minister Katsunobu Kato, Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Yoshihisa Inoue, secretary-general of junior coalition partner Komeito, and other senior officials.

After the meeting, the prime minister told reporters that it became difficult to promote the system after the integrity of the data was called into question.

“The public is now skeptical about the data,” he said. “We want to resume the debate after the labor ministry gathers more information about the reality of the situation.”

The deletion represents a major defeat for his administration in its plan to submit and pass eight labor-related bills in the current Diet session, which Abe called the “session to reform work styles.”

The legislation on expanding the system is expected to be submitted next year at the earliest.

In general, people under discretionary labor contracts perform specialist jobs and do not work normal hours. They are paid a predetermined amount that assumes they will put in a certain amount of overtime.

They are not paid for extra hours worked beyond the assumed time.

The business community has called for wider use of the discretionary working system.

The government has argued that an expanded discretionary labor system would provide workers with a more flexible work style. But the opposition says the plan could exacerbate the problem of overwork in Japan.

In arguing for an expansion of the system, Abe referred to a fiscal 2013 survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare that said people working under discretionary labor contracts put in shorter hours than regular employees.

He later apologized for that statement, acknowledging that the numbers from the survey were misleading and inappropriate.

In fact, doubts were raised about hundreds of figures in the survey. Some were illogical. For example, the survey stated that an employee worked more hours in one day than for an entire week.

The Abe administration still plans to pass its labor reforms during the current Diet session, including another controversial proposal to lift the limit on work hours for high earners engaged in jobs requiring highly professional skills.

Critics say deregulating working hours would lead to more deaths from overwork.

Other proposals in the bills include paying nonregular workers the same wages as regular workers doing the equivalent job.