Online drive against China's '996' culture gains traction

SHANGHAI • A campaign calling on workers at Chinese tech companies and other high-profile firms to log their working hours on the Internet has gone viral, in the latest backlash against the country's overtime culture.

Organised by four anonymous creators who described themselves as recent graduates, the "Worker Lives Matter" campaign calls on employees at tech firms to enter their company name, position, and working hours in a spreadsheet posted on GitHub, an open-source hosting website.

As at yesterday morning, more than 4,000 people who said that they worked at tech giants such as Alibaba Group Holding, Baidu, Tencent Holdings and ByteDance had registered their data.

Employees have since also created separate spreadsheets for specific sectors such as real estate, finance and foreign companies.

Although most of the entries on the spreadsheet show that while a five-day week is the norm, many employees work 10-12 hours a day.

One of the creators said in a post that they hoped the list would be an effective reference tool for workers when choosing jobs.

In another post, the team argued that the "996" practice of working 9am to 9pm, six days a week was rife and working hours at Internet firms were often opaque.

"We hope to make a contribution to the boycott of '996' and the popularisation of '955'," said one of the campaign's creators on China's question-and-answer site Zhihu in a post that has been viewed six million times. "955" means 9am to 5pm five days a week.

Long work hours are a hot topic for China's technology workers and others among the young, white-collar class.

The issue first gained attention in 2019, when tech workers launched a similar online campaign against "996".

In recent months, criticism of long hours has gained traction because of a government crackdown on tech companies that has shone a spotlight on their treatment of workers.

This year, companies including TikTok owner ByteDance, short video platform Kuaishou and food delivery giant Meituan have cut compulsory weekend overtime.

In August, China's top court described "996" as illegal.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2021, with the headline 'Online drive against China's '996' culture gains traction'. Subscribe