Controversial work timings in China have come to the forefront after many companies have been exposed of working their employees according to this time frame. These include big companies such as JD.com, Youzan and, reportedly, Alibaba whose head was widely panned for promoting the 996 work philosophy that is prevalent in China.
The 996 system, as its called, is a work timings system that forces labourers to work from 9 AM to 9 PM, 6 days of the week. This is a direct violation of labour laws in China, but has largely gone unspoken about in the country owing to censorship.
What Is The 996 System?
As mentioned previously, the 996 system asks employees to perform overtime work in a way that is in violation of Articles 41, 43 and 44 of the Labour Law of the People’s Republic of China. The law specifies that labourers cannot work more than 44 hours a week on average, or around eight hours in a day.
The 996 system, by contrast, has labourers working for 72 hours in a week. This is almost double the permissible limit, leaving the 996 systems on the illegal side of the law.
However, in China, things do not turn out to be that black and white, as the government and private companies are closely intertwined.
Almost all of the big 5 companies that are championed by the Chinese government are on the 996 work schedule, according to the 996 ICU campaign on Github. However, the repository also shows that there are more, much harder, work schedules that fall under the same gambit of violating labour laws.
These include the 007, 11116, 997, 8106, and 9106 work timings. enforced by many companies in China. The question arises; why does the government not take action?
Powering The Industrial Engine
China at the beginning of the 21st Century was barely a blip on the radar. Now, it is the world’s biggest economy, pushed to the position by one of the most concerted teamwork of private and public sector.
China’s unique political landscape, also known as communism, enabled a single-minded and focused attitude towards developing the economy. However, the stratospheric growth reached by China seems to be built on the back of unfair labour on the parts of the workers.
When the government champions these companies both financially and politically, it becomes easy to turn a blind eye to something as small as labour law violations. Moreover, any and all the news of the 996 violation was scrubbed from the Chinese internet upon it breaking, leading to the need for a better way to get the word out.
The 996 ICU GitHub Campaign Arises
At the end of March, a GitHub repository and an accompanying website were created for a project termed the 996.ICU. This was to shed light on the developers that were forced to work 996 and would risk extremely poor health to the point where they would end up in Intensive Care Units.
The repository lists all the companies that enforce the 996 rule, making it a godsend for any workers that wished to join those companies. The movement soon evolved into a software license known as the Anti-996 license, which explicitly forbade companies listed on the 996 repo from using GitHub open source code.
During the time of writing, the repo has around 240,000 stars and 20,800 forks, making it one of the most starred GitHub repos of all time. The movement, which has the slogan ‘developers’ lives matter’, reached 100,000 stars barely 4 days after its creation, and 200,000 in a fortnight.
However, the large amount of activity caused the page to flooded with spam on the issue page, which was then shut down. Just a week before the issue page was shut down, multiple browsers from companies involved in the 996 system began blacklisting the site.
These include WeChat, UC Browser, 360 Browser, and more, which are products of Tencent, Alibaba, and Qihoo 360 respectively. The reason given for the shutdown was that the site was “illegal and fraudulent”.
The Bottom Line
This comes as a surprise to no one, as Jack Ma, the co-founder and CEO of Alibaba, has said that the system is a “blessing”, stating [trans.],
“I personally think that being able to do 996 is a huge blessing. Many companies and many people think that 996 has no chance. If you don’t 996 when you are young, when can you 996?”
This attitude demonstrates that the Internet giants of China could care less about the work conditions of their employees. Echoing this, Nagi Zhuge, an engineer in China, said to a publication,
“My colleagues are too afraid to go home after work. As a junior employee, I can’t be the first to leave.”
This is the kind of attitude and work pressure imposed on those in China functioning under the 996 regime. Grassroots campaigns like 996.ICU have put the ball in the Chinese governments’ course. It is left to see the action they will take.