LettersChina’s 996 work culture is labour exploitation by another name
- Support for the practice of requiring employees to work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week, comes from the top, and is exacerbated by poor regulation of labour practices
- Regulators should take steps to balance the power dynamics between companies and employees
This culture, in which employees often work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week, has provoked nationwide debate as China’s tech workers, most of them young and college-educated, take to the internet to complain.
According to China’s labour laws, employees should not work for more than eight hours a day, nor more than 40 hours a week. Employees who do not have standard working hours, such as senior executives, drivers or consultants, do not usually receive overtime pay. This system of irregular hours is abused by tech companies that overwork their employees without paying them extra.
Labour exploitation is rooted in a culture that sees overwork and sacrifice as virtues and which is supported by industry leaders. While cultural shifts would require years of education, regulators could take steps to balance the power dynamics between companies and employees.
They could mete out stricter punishments for companies that violate labour laws or establish a more rigorous approval process for companies that want to adopt irregular working hours. Regulators should also put in place an anonymous whistle-blowing mechanism.
Duncan Li, Kennedy Town