Japanese officials issue apology on national TV over worker who left desk 3 minutes early to buy lunch

Unnamed civil servant docked half a day's pay over 'deeply regrettable' behaviour 

Tom Embury-Dennis
Thursday 21 June 2018 16:16 BST
Japanese officials apologise in TV news conference over civil servant who left desk 3 minutes early to buy lunch

Japanese officials have apologised in a televised news conference after it emerged a civil servant occasionally took his lunch break three minutes early.

The unnamed 64-year-old, an employee at the waterworks bureau in the city of Kobe, was docked half a day’s pay over the “habitual” slipping away from his desk just before noon, which he did 26 times over a seven-month period.

Kobe city officials described the “misconduct” as “deeply regrettable” and bowed in apology in front of the press conference cameras. “We are sorry,” one added.

The employee reportedly said he occasionally left early to buy a bento lunch – a single portion take-out meal common in Japan – and because he needed a “change of pace”, according to Yahoo Japan.

He was discovered by a colleague, who spotted his illicit trips to a nearby restaurant through the window of the director’s office.

“The lunch break is from noon to 1pm. He left his desk before the break,” a spokesperson told the Japan Times.

The worker was apparently in violation of a public service law demanding officials “concentrate on their jobs”, AFP reported.

The apology comes after Japan’s lower house passed a bill in May that caps overtime at 100 hours a month. The move is an attempt to stop people in the country literally working themselves to death.

A fifth of Japan’s workforce are at risk of death by overwork, known as karoshi, as they work more than 80 hours of overtime each month, according to a government survey.

Several high-profile cases, such as the death of an advertising agency employee who was working 100 extra hours a month before she took her own life, have prompted calls for a dramatic shift in Japan’s work culture.

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