China’s Lou Jiwei decries ‘996’ culture of overwork and says ambitious green targets risk economic ‘dangers’
- Outspoken former finance minister Lou says forcing employees to work excessive overtime not only violates labour law, it also destroys work-life balance and reduces available jobs
- Comments pre-empted a ruling by the Supreme People’s Court that the controversial and highly demanding schedules commonly seen at internet and tech giants are illegal
China’s “996” work culture – shifts from 9am to 9pm, six days a week – has hurt employment and employees in China, former finance minister Lou Jiwei warned while calling for stronger regulation of the corporate sector.
While many Chinese internet companies saw the 996 arrangement as a “gift” to employees, it clearly violated the country’s labour law and ruined work-life balance, Lou said during the online ESG Global Leader Summit organised by Sina Finance. ESG, which stands for “environmental, social and governance”, has become a buzzword in the Chinese business community, as emphasis is increasingly placed on fulfilling social responsibilities.
“If there is no proper regulation, everyone will adopt 996, which will reduce jobs and be harmful to society,” he said.
On Thursday, Lou also sounded the alarm on Beijing’s ambitious green targets, saying they could carry serious economic risks if advanced too quickly, and that the country also needs to be wary of future trade frictions brought on by the climate issue.
Additionally, he said the country should reject gender discrimination in the workplace.
“The difficulty should not be underestimated,” Lou said. “Now the rhetoric is increasingly high, [but] we need to be aware of potential dangers.”
China recently kicked off a unified national carbon-emission-trading exchange last month, but the carbon price in the country is still only one-eighth of that in the European Union.
“If we leapfrog quickly on this issue, it will deal a serious blow to our country’s industry chain,” he said.
He warned that a sharp rise in carbon prices in a short period could also lead to a great surge in steel prices. “You can imagine how much structural inflation it will push,” he said while conceding that China would still need to fall in line with international standards at some point.
Additionally, Lou called on Beijing to give official numeric guidelines about how much carbon the country emits each year, to formally state which year before 2030 the carbon peak will be reached, and to offer more clarity on the emissions cap, to help the price of carbon emissions “rise moderately”.
“This can hedge against rising commodity prices … and helps prevent some countries from using carbon tariffs and carbon-quota pricing to crack down on our trade,” he said.