Photo/IllutrationSeven-Eleven Higashi-Osaka Minami-Kamikosaka, whose owner said he will not be subject to contract termination or a penalty from Seven-Eleven Japan Co. over shorter operating hours (Takeshi Suezaki)

HIGASHI-OSAKA, Osaka Prefecture--Seven-Eleven Japan Co. will not punish a franchise owner here who ran his store for 19 hours a day instead of 24 owing to a labor shortage, adding that it never intended to end his contract.

The company told The Asahi Shimbun that it will maintain its policy of operating around the clock for its nationwide franchises, though it remains unclear how strictly the 24-hour policy will remain in place.

Company headquarters officials who visited the Higashi-Osaka Minami-Kamikosaka store on March 11 after the conflict came to light conveyed to the franchise owner, Mitoshi Matsumoto, that they would neither terminate his contract nor seek damages over the matter.

Matsumoto had said Seven-Eleven Japan threatened to cancel the contract and demand payment of 17 million yen ($152,000) if the franchise continued to run with shorter operating hours, closing from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Company officials, however, denied this, saying, “From the start, we do not think that we officially communicated to him a possible contract termination or other such measures.”

Matsumoto said his franchise will continue with the shorter store hours for now, which were necessitated when he could not find part-time workers willing to work those early morning hours.

"We would also like the headquarters to give a considerate response to other franchise owners struggling to run their shops 24/7," he said.

Seven-Eleven Japan plans to conduct a trial program for shorter operating hours at more than 10 outlets across Japan, while maintaining its general policy of around-the-clock operation.

The issue was raised at a meeting of the Upper House Committee on the Economy, Trade and Industry on March 14, with industry minister Hiroshige Seko saying, “We hope (the headquarters and shop owners) carry out positive discussions.”