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27 Aug 2021

Coco Feng, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

China: Top court warns "996" overwork schedule is illegal without proper compensation

"Big Tech’s excessive 996 overwork culture in China is illegal without extra compensation, top court reminds employers", 27 August 2021

China’s top court and labour ministry issued a warning about violations of the country’s labour law that signals potential trouble for Big Tech firms relying on the excessive overwork culture known as 996.

The Supreme People’s Court and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security published a joint statement on Thursday detailing 10 cases involving common labour disputes to remind employers to follow the country’s labour laws. The companies involved in the cases were not named.

One of the cases involved a courier firm that fired an employee who refused to work from 9am to 9pm, six days per week – a schedule that has come to be known as 996. The schedule was written in the company’s rules, but a labour arbitration commission found it to be a violation of Chinese law. The company was ordered to pay 8,000 yuan (US$1,234) to the employee as compensation for illegally terminating the labour contract and not offering proper compensation for overtime work.

The publication of the cases has fanned speculation about whether authorities will start to take a firmer stance against technology companies regarding labour law violations. The 996 culture has been a staple in China’s tech sector for years, especially among start-ups racing to scale up in the highly competitive market.

In extreme cases, young employees have died after working excessively long hours. [...]

Currently, labour oversight remains lax. China does not allow independent labour unions, so employees sometimes tacitly accept arrangements involving extra hours for extra money. [...]

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