Frustrations over gruelling work hours in China’s tech industry have come together in a new online campaign asking employees at some of the country’s most well-known companies to divulge their schedule, as the so-called 996 culture – working 9am to 9pm, six days a week – persists despite increased public scrutiny.
A collaborative spreadsheet that encourages people to share information about their companies’ work hours is being widely circulated this week, having received more than 3,500 entries by Wednesday. They include input from those working for well-known Chinese internet giants such as Alibaba Group Holding, owner of the South China Morning Post, as well as Tencent Holdings, ByteDance and Meituan.
The information shared includes job title, location, daily start and end times, lunch hour and number of work days each week.
The spreadsheet, named WorkingTime, had been viewed more than 10 million times by Tuesday, one of the project’s founders wrote in a post published on Zhihu, China’s Quora-like Q&A platform. Along with three other graduating college students who have all received job offers from internet companies, the founder wants to help provide jobseekers some transparency over the industry’s work culture. None of the founders revealed their real names.
“Overtime is prevalent among domestic companies and there is no supervision at all, especially among internet companies,” the founder wrote. “We hope to make some contributions toward boycotting 996 and popularising 955.”
The founder has declined to speak with the Post, saying that they are not accepting media interviews at the moment.
On a page on coding platform GitHub aimed at explaining the project, the founders said that they are still standardising the submission process and public access to the project with the help of lawyers. They will enable download for the spreadsheet after they sort out legal issues, they wrote.
China has seen repeated public backlashes against the internet industry’s dreaded work schedule in recent years, with authorities chiming in to criticise the phenomenon. Yet little has changed.
In 2019, an anonymous internet user who claimed to be a Chinese developer launched an online protest on GitHub, saying that anyone who follows the 996 schedule risks would end up in an intensive care unit, adding that “developer’s lives matter”. The movement gained wide attention on Chinese social media platforms, and led some of the country’s web browsers to restrict access to the GitHub page.
In January this year, a 22-year-old female employee at Chinese e-commerce giant Pinduoduo died walking home after working long hours past midnight, reigniting debate about the issue.
As Beijing intensifies its regulatory crackdown on Big Tech over the past year, authorities appear to have taken a tougher stance against 996.
In August, the Supreme People’s Court and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security published a joint statement detailing 10 cases involving common labour disputes, including one involving an unnamed courier firm that fired an employee who refused to work 996. A labour arbitration commission found the dismissal illegal.
Under China’s law, workers are entitled to extra compensation for overtime, which is capped at 36 hours per month. However, labour oversight remains lax in the country, where independent labour unions are banned, leading some employees to accept tacit arrangements involving overtime above the legal maximum in exchange for more money.
While some tech giants have promised to cut down office hours, some workers have told the Post that their workload remains strenuous, with many continuing to work on weekends.
“We all know that 996 is wrong,” a WorkingTime founder wrote. “But it’s still there. Even the grand 996.icu movement from a few years ago hasn’t changed the situation much.”