In Brief

Japanese worker shamed on TV for taking lunch three minutes early

Bosses bow in apology at press conference over civil servant’s ‘regrettable misconduct’

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A Japanese civil servant was fined and publicly reprimanded in a televised press conference after officials found he had been taking his lunch break three minutes early.

The 64-year-old worker, employed by the water department in the western city of Kobe, was clocked leaving his desk a few minutes before noon on 26 occasions over seven months.

Bosses were called in “when another official looked out an office window and saw the worker leave the building and head towards a nearby bento store,” according to English-language Japanese news website Sora News 24. Each trip was estimated to take around three minutes. 

The errant employee was docked half a day’s pay for unprofessional conduct - but that wasn’t the end of the saga.

City officials called a press conference to address the “scandal”, where they lamented the employee’s “immensely regrettable” offence and bowed in front of reporters as a show of remorse.

The incident “sparked a heated debate on social media”, says The Japan Times, “with many defending the official”.

Coincidentally, the news broke “soon after MPs passed a law intended to address Japan’s punishingly long working hours”, says The Guardian.

The government has come under increasing pressure to address a hierarchical corporate culture which often demands total devotion with little regard for workers’ wellbeing.

Death from overwork is common enough to have its own name - karoshi - while recent high-profile stories have drawn attention to intrusive practices like “pregnancy rotas”, where employees are expected to hold off having a baby until their designated “turn”.

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