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Japan: Chiba gov't workers punished for leaving work two minutes early

On March 10, the Funabashi City Board of Education in Chiba Prefecture announced it had disciplined a number of staff for leaving the office two minutes early. Staff say they left early because they wanted to get an earlier bus home.
The Board of Education found 316 incidences of early departures from May 2019 to January 2021, involving seven staff members. The ringleader was found to be a 59-year-old woman in charge of attendance management, who was working at a counsellor level in the Lifelong Learning Department.

The counsellor was disciplined for taking the initiative in defrauding timecards, which recorded departure times as 5:15 p.m., although she and other staff were leaving at 5:13 p.m. in order to catch the 5:17 p.m. bus.

Other habitual offenders included a 27-year-old male director and a woman in her 60s, both employed this fiscal year, who received written reprimands. Four other staff members, also employed this fiscal year, were given strict cautions for punching out early.

The time-swindling ringleader has been punished with a one-tenth reduction in salary for three months. This salary cut is expected to reimburse the Board of Education with approximately 137,000 yen to cover the unreported leave accumulated.

According to the Board of Education, when asked why they had knocked off before their assigned finishing time, staff said they “wanted to go home early.” If they missed the bus at 5:17, the next bus wouldn’t arrive until 30 minutes later, at 5:47 p.m.

People in Japan expressed sympathy for the plight of the workers, saying:

“How many companies pay properly on a minute-by-minute basis? If that were the case, then staff who work one minute overtime should get paid for it.”

“They’re still using timecards? So outdated.”

“It would be nice if, when they found out about the bus timetable, they could make some flexible arrangement for government workers like getting them to come in a bit earlier instead.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if the bus service timetable could be changed?”

“Civil servants can’t have flexible work arrangements–they should talk to the union about changing working hours or switching to a flex-time system.”

“People already arrive at least five minutes earlier than their scheduled time for work, so you’d think it would be okay for them to leave two minutes early.”

In Japan, it’s often said that if you’re not 10 minutes early to an appointment then you’re late, so it’s common for staff to arrive ten minutes earlier than their scheduled start time to stay in everyone’s good books.

That doesn’t mean you can ever leave early, though, because just as unpaid early arrivals are the norm, so too are unpaid overtimes, which these workers may now find themselves doing for roughly 20 minutes a day, unless the bus company decides to change its schedule.

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