The owner of a Seven-Eleven convenience store in Fukui Prefecture was allegedly forced to work for about 50 hours without sleep in February after the chain rejected his requests to suspend business amid the heaviest snowfall in decades, a labor union has said.

The prefecture saw its heaviest snowfall since 1981 that month, with accumulations reaching 147 cm on Feb. 7. Twelve people died as a result of the snow, which also crushed over 1,000 greenhouses and left at one point some 1,500 vehicles stranded on Route 8, a major artery that connects the Hokuriku and Kansai regions.

That prompted the prefecture to ask for the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces for help.

The labor union of franchise owners said the store owner, who is in his 50s, began shoveling snow in the store's parking lot from early on Feb. 6 and ended up working at the store until Feb. 8.

He repeatedly asked the company if he could suspend operations, fearing snow on the store's roof could fall onto customers. But the union said the head office told him to keep the store open, saying any injuries to customers would be covered by insurance.

His wife, who is in her 40s and also works at the store, had been removing snow with him and also fell ill from exhaustion by the end of the first day. The head office later sent people to assist at the store, but they left after just a few hours, according to the union.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co. said its rules state that franchise store owners have the discretion to continue operations in times of disaster, adding it is investigating what happened.

It said it supplies each franchise outlet with a manual on how to respond to disasters.