Wednesday, January 26

China Explains That ‘996’ Excessive Work Culture Is Illegal

China has issued its most comprehensive warning yet against the culture of excessive work that pervades the country’s largest corporations, using richly detailed, real court disputes to address a growing backlash against punitive lawsuits from the private sector.

The People’s Supreme Court and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security published a lengthy essay on work offenses and unreasonable overtime on Friday, labeled ‘996’ due to the common practice of working from 9 a.m. M. A 9 p. M., Six days a week. He described 10 cases, including but not limited to the technology industry, in which employees were forced to work overtime or put in jeopardy.


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In one case, an unidentified tech company asked employees to sign agreements to waive overtime pay, which the court ruled was illegal. In another, a member of the media staff passed out in the office bathroom at 5.30 a.m. before dying of heart failure. The court ruled that the death was work-related and asked the company to pay the victim’s family about 400,000 yuan ($ 61,710).

“We are seeing a strong trend to encourage people to use the court system to go after technology companies. We believe civil litigation will increase, ”said Kendra Schaefer, director of digital research at consultancy Trivium China. But the question remains, he adds, as to “whether this is a sign that regulators are turning their attention to this social problem.”

China’s increasingly profitable tech giants are grappling with public outrage over their grueling hours, a backlash fueled by a growing chorus of social media complaints and even deaths. Tech billionaires from Alibaba Group Holding founder Jack Ma to CEO Richard Liu have long endorsed the practice as necessary to survive in an intensely competitive industry, and the key to accumulating personal wealth. China’s tech workers face immense pressure to work long hours to meet strict deadlines, while often lacking a clear legal recourse, in contrast to Silicon Valley, where companies like Google offer incentives like high-end coffee shops to motivate customers. workers.

“Being able to work with 996 is a great blessing,” Ma once said. “If you want to join Alibaba, you have to be prepared to work 12 hours a day. Otherwise, why bother joining? ”

But the tide is turning. The Xi Jinping administration has launched a campaign to curb the growing influence of the country’s largest corporations, while calling on the private sector to share the wealth. The online criticism adds to the challenges for tech companies that are already enduring increased scrutiny over their treatment of manual workers and endemic problems like forced alcohol use during official functions.

Meanwhile, the Xi government is trying to boost domestic consumption and the country’s birth rate; a relentless work culture could hamper your overall goals.

The ‘996’ regime is especially prevalent in the expanding tech sector, whose foot soldiers began protesting after the promise of giant rewards through stock options faded along with the destruction of the market. It goes back years: In 2019, a group of Chinese programmers turned to GitHub to banish startups accused of mistreating employees from using their open source code.

The controversy culminated earlier this year with the deaths of two workers at the e-commerce app Pinduoduo Inc.A woman collapsed while walking home with her colleagues at 1:30 a.m. and could not be resuscitated, while another employee committed suicide.

In recent months, Internet companies such as ByteDance Ltd. and Kuaishou Technology have taken the first steps to reduce working hours. The two short video giants, meanwhile, canceled an alternate system in which employees take only one day off per week every two weeks.

“It is a good sign that the supreme court is finally paying attention. It’s about both politics and the rule of law, given the recent crackdown on companies like Alibaba and Meituan, ”said Suji Yan, founder of a startup that helped start the GitHub campaign.

Yan said he tried to help tech workers file labor lawsuits or complaints against their employers throughout 2019, but got a lukewarm response from courts and regulators.

While Chinese labor laws require additional pay for overtime outside of an 8-hour workday, employers have found solutions and the application of such rules has long been questioned. In a case published by the supreme court on Friday, an unidentified internet company told employees that it only counts overtime after 9 p.m., not earlier. In another, an unidentified drug company said that all paid overtime needed manager approval.

China’s human resources ministry and the courts are now aiming to develop guidelines for resolving future labor disputes, according to Friday’s notice.

“Overtime problems in some industries and companies have drawn public attention,” the court said in its notice. “Legally, workers are entitled to the corresponding compensation and rest or vacations. Obeying the national regime of working hours is the obligation of employers. Overtime can easily lead to labor disputes, affect the worker-employer relationship and social stability. ”

© 2021 Bloomberg

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