Workaholic Shenzhen mandates paid leave - first city in China to do so

Employers in Shenzhen must strictly implement paid leave from 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SHENZHEN • The technology hub of Shenzhen, notorious for its long work hours, will become China's first city to require that workers take paid leave, a move to help reduce burnout that may be replicated in other parts of the country.

From next year, employers must "strictly implement" paid leave, so that those "with a heavy mental and physical workload can avoid excessive burnout", according to regulations approved last month and recently explained by the city's work committee, the government-backed Shenzhen News reported on Tuesday.

Paid leave varies, but employees usually get five days off after one year of working. While the leave is written into China's labour laws, enforcement is often lax and ignored by employers.

Hours are gruelling in the Chinese tech sector, where "996" culture, which refers to working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week, is often celebrated.

Alibaba boss Jack Ma faced a backlash last year after writing a blog post praising 996 culture as a "huge blessing". He later made a public U-turn.

In Shenzhen, home to tech giants including Huawei Technologies and Tencent Holdings, 996 culture is prevalent.

The city's government said in June that upcoming health regulation reforms would set an example for the rest of China.

The document did not specify how many days of paid leave would be enforced under the rule which applies to "staff", with the status of contractors less clear.

In addition to paid leave, employees get time off during the Chinese New Year and national holiday weeks in October.

Several Shenzhen tech workers welcomed the rules, but remained doubtful they could be enforced.

"In many cases, I'm working overtime because there are too many things to do," said a former Tencent employee who now works for a handset maker. "It can be said to some extent that I 'voluntarily' work overtime."

Last month, President Xi Jinping visited Shenzhen to mark the 40th anniversary of its special economic zone, and the city was granted greater autonomy to pilot market reforms.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2020, with the headline Workaholic Shenzhen mandates paid leave - first city in China to do so. Subscribe