996 working hour system

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996 working hour system
Chinese996工作制

The 996 working hour system (Chinese: 996工作制) is a work schedule practiced by some companies in the People's Republic of China. It derives its name from its requirement that employees work from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, 6 days per week; i.e. 72 hours per week.[1][2][3][4][5][6] A number of Mainland Chinese internet companies have adopted this system as their official work schedule. Critics argue that the 996 working hour system is a violation of Chinese law and have called it "modern slavery".[7][8][9]

In March 2019 an "anti-996" protest was launched via GitHub.[10][11][12] In 2021, an academic study by Chinese institutions recognized the existence of "excessive-work cultures like '996'" for the first time.[13]

996 was deemed illegal by China's Supreme People's Court on 27 August 2021.[14]

Background[edit]

The culture of overtime work has a long history in Chinese IT companies,[15] where the focus is typically on speed and cost reduction.[16] Companies employ a range of measures, such as reimbursing taxi fares for employees who remain working at the office late into the night, to encourage overtime work.[17]

It may have led to revenge bedtime procrastination.[18]

In 2020, a study found that "Chinese businesses are more likely to follow long work hours than American ones."[19]

In 2020, another study likened 996 culture to "modern slavery", formed through the combination of "unrestricted global capitalism and a Confucian culture of hierarchy and obedience."[7]

In 2021, for the first time, a Chinese study recognized the existence of "excessive-work cultures like 996" to an extent that, if not corrected, it can dilute the gains from China's dual circulation policy.[13]

Relevant legislation[edit]

The Labour Law of the People's Republic of China states:[improper synthesis?]

Chapter 4 Article 36 The State shall practise a working hour system wherein labourers shall work for no more than eight hours a day and no more than 44 hours a week on an average.[20]

Article 41 The employer can prolong work hours due to needs of production or businesses after consultation with its trade union and labourers. The work hours to be prolonged, in general, shall be no longer than one hour a day, or no more than three hours a day if such prolonging is called for due to special reasons and under the condition that the physical health of labourers is guaranteed. The work time to be prolonged shall not exceed, however, 36 hours a month.

Article 44 The employer shall pay labourers more wage remunerations than those for normal work according to the following standards in any one of the following cases:

(1) Wage payments to labourers no less than 150 percent of their wages if the labourers are asked to work longer hours; (2) Wage payments to labourers no less than 200 percent of their wages if no rest can be arranged afterwards for the labourers asked to work on days of rest; (3) Wage payments to labourers no less than 300 percent of their wages if the labourers are asked to work on legal holidays.

Chapter 12 Article 90 If the employer prolongs work hours in violation of stipulations in this Law, labour administrative departments can give it a warning, order it to make corrections, and may impose a fine thereon.

Article 91 The employer involved in any one of the following cases that encroach upon the legitimate rights and interests of labourers shall be ordered by labour administrative departments to pay labourers wage remunerations or to make up for economic losses, and may even order it to pay compensation:

(2) Refusal to pay labourers wage remunerations for working longer hours;

Companies involved[edit]

58.com[edit]

In September 2016, the classified advertisement website 58.com officially declared its adoption of the 996 working hour system,[21] attracting criticism from employees and social commentators. The company responded that the 996 system would be an encouraged, not compulsory, practice.[22][23]

ByteDance[edit]

A CNBC article in May 2021 reported that workers at TikTok's parent company ByteDance were unhappy with the 996 work culture there and that people were turning down job opportunites at TikTok because of it.[24] In November 2021, ByteDance moved away from 996 and mandated somewhat shorter working hours.[25] Nevertheless, on 23 February 2022, the sudden death was reported of a 28-year-old employee at ByteDance, after he posted a message on Maimai, a career and social networking platform, the night before. ByteDance later issued a statement that was shared in an internal letter with its staff in China, according to which the employee felt dizzy after an hour of exercise at the company gym, before he was taken to the hospital. The incident raised scrutiny of the frequent overtime demands of Chinese tech companies.[26]

JD.com[edit]

After 58.com's 996 schedule was made known to the public, an internal email from the vice-president Gang He (Chinese: 何剛) of JD.com was leaked online, which contained a demand for the management team of JD.com to implement the 996 working hour system "on a flexible basis".[27]

On 15 March 2019, an employee of JD.com alleged that some departments have begun implementing the 995 schedule (9am-9pm, but 5 days per week), while other departments have already finished doing so. Following the report, the public relations department of JD.com announced that overtime work was not compulsory.[28]

Richard Liu, the founder of the company, referred to people complaining about the work schedule as "slackers".[29]

Pinduoduo[edit]

In early January 2021, the e-commerce platform Pinduoduo was accused of forcing its employees to do extremely intensive overtimes, which supposedly led to the karoshi death of a 22-year-old worker.[30][31] Later, the official account of Pinduoduo posted (but deleted shortly afterwards) an answer on Zhihu, saying "Those who are at the bottom of the society earn their wages at the risk of losing their lives."[32]

Just few days after the accident, another employee committed suicide by jumping.[33][34] On January 10, news sources reported that Pinduoduo fired an employee who posted photos showing his colleague being carried into an ambulance.[35][36]

Youzan[edit]

In January 2019, an employee of Youzan stated on the social platform Maimai that their supervisor had enforced the 996 schedule.[37] Bai Ya, the CEO of Youzan, replied, "it would be a good thing to look back at a few years later."[17] Some media outlets criticized this schedule.[38] Later that month, the Labour Supervision Group of Xihu District, Hangzhou announced that the company was under investigation.[39]

Others[edit]

At least 40 companies, including Huawei, Pinduoduo, and Alibaba Group, have implemented the 996 schedule or an even more intensive alternative.[40][41][42][43][44]

Online protests[edit]

996.ICU GitHub campaign[edit]

Logo of Anti-996 GitHub project

On 26 March 2019, the 996.ICU repository and website were created. The repository on GitHub states that the name "996.icu" refers to how developers who work under the 996 system (9AM–9PM, 6 days per week) would risk poor health and a possible stay in an intensive care unit. The movement's slogan is "developers' lives matter".[45][46][47][48][49][50][51]

Two days later, on 28 March 2019, the repository had already received 50 thousand stars, and 100 thousand stars on 30 March 2019, which made it the top trending repository on GitHub.[52] The repository reached 120 thousand stars on 31 March 2019, and 200 thousand stars on 9 April 2019, making it the second most starred repository on GitHub. The flurry of activity led to the "issue" page of the repository to be flooded with spam and shut down, which was hotly discussed on Zhihu, Sina Weibo, and WeChat.[1][53]

The original aim of the repository was to list the companies that use the 996 working hour system, but it soon developed into a movement; the Anti 996 Licence [zh] was created to explicitly prohibit companies using the 996 system from using open source[a] code licensed under it.[54][55]

Browser blacklist[edit]

On 2 April 2019, it was widely reported that Tencent's QQ browser and WeChat, Alibaba's UC Browser, Qihoo 360's 360 Browser, and many other Chromium-based Mainland Chinese browsers blocked the 996.icu repository on GitHub, describing it as "an illegal and fraudulent site".[56][23]

Support by Microsoft employees[edit]

On 18 April 2019, employees at Microsoft and GitHub created a GitHub repository named "support.996.ICU" in support of the 996.ICU campaign, which they believe could be under threat of Chinese government censorship.[57][58][59][60][61][62]

Positions[edit]

Support[edit]

Oppose[edit]

  • Xin Shi Ping of Xinhua News Agency: "The 996 working hour system violates labour law. It overtaxes health and the future. It does harm to hard-working workers and it is a misunderstanding of the hard-working spirit."[70]
  • People's Daily: "Advocating 'hard work' does not mean resorting to and enforcing the 996 system."[71][72][73]
  • China News Service: "It is unnecessary to exchange life for money." The article was reprinted by the People's Daily.[74]
  • Beijing Daily: "Jack Ma and Richard Liu are just 'boasting' the 996 work schedule, aiming at disguising reduction of salary or lay-off." The article was reprinted in the People's Daily.[75]
  • Wang Xinya, writing for Banyuetan, stated that some entrepreneurs disregard the law and associate 996 with hard work, calling it "poisonous" chicken soup. He stated that the 996 system has nothing to do with employee diligence, but has everything to do with company interests.[76]
  • Guido van Rossum remarked that the 996 work schedule is "inhumane".[77][54][78][79]
  • In 2021, Chinese scholars stressed on the policy-makers that "there is a need to reform work policies to realize the lowering of working time per worker in China (and also to curb excessive-work cultures like 996)."[13] They argued, without such initiatives the dual circulation policy is doomed to fail.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Such a license would not meet most definitions of open source software, such as The Open Source Definition, as the 996 exclusion counts as a limitation on purpose of use.

References[edit]

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External links[edit]