A cyber campaign to protest the long working hours of Chinese high-tech employees spread rapidly on the Chinese Internet. On github.com, the campaign called “996.icu” may not be as big as it was initially, but now it is quickly spreading on the Chinese version of Twitter (Weibo), becoming a hot topic, with more than 500,000 page views of just one post.
Chinese programmers came up with an ironic name, “996.icu.” It means that if you work six days a week, from 9 am to 9 pm every day, you will end up being taken to the intensive care unit of the hospital. Although the campaign is aimed at some of China’s largest technology companies and includes a blacklist detailing employee benefits, campaign organizers have been very cautious in dealing with this issue. The campaign stated in its summary of the principles and purposes: “This is not a political movement. We firmly uphold the labor laws. We require employers to respect the legitimate rights and interests of employees.”
The Chinese Labor Law stipulates that employers can require employees to work overtime for one hour or even three hours a day, but the total overtime for one month cannot exceed 36 hours. 72 hours a week is clearly far beyond this standard. However, labor activists and lawyers point out that companies have many ways to circumvent the law.
According to “996.icu,” the 72-hour work system has been “secret” for a long time. However, more and more companies have been discussing this arrangement publicly. The “996.icu” protest movement also pointed out that e-commerce company, J.D. Com, said in March that some departments have begun to discuss the “996” or “995” work system. Other companies made similar decisions earlier this year. When JD commented on its “996” work system, it said that it was not a mandatory policy, but all employees should be fully devoted to their work.
A key goal of the anti-“996” campaign is to get employers to join the campaign and show their support for labor standards by attaching an anti-“996” license to the software. Reports indicate that this initiative has achieved some results. Next, moving activities offline (and discussing them openly) will be a huge challenge. It is also unclear how long this network movement can last in China’s strictly controlled cyberspace. Internet users have reported that some Chinese-made browsers have blocked access to “996.icu” on Github.
Chinese state media seem to support young high-tech workers and their long-term concerns. A publication in China’s official newspaper, China Youth Daily, described young science workers as being trapped by the “996” work system. The article believes that the labor inspection department should pay more active attention and arrange more intervention. The article also pointed out that today’s “996” work system is not only a problem that high-tech employees face; employees in other industries face the same problem.
Source: Voice of America, April 4, 2019