A Chinese CEO’s Weibo account recently was bombarded with comments from its employees questioning and criticizing the company’s working hours which exceed the legally stipulated limit, according to the Beijing News.
The new policy on working hours, referred to as “996” in China’s online community, asks the employees to start work at 9am and get off at 9pm and work six days a week. Several employees of the company have confirmed the news to the Beijing News.
The company, 58.com, also known as “Wu Ba Tongcheng” (five eight city) in Chinese, was established in 2005 and is China’s largest classified website serving local merchants and consumers.
58.com said in response that the so-called “996” was just a normal mobilization inside the company for the busy season each year which is usually September and October, and it’s not mandatory.
However, the Beijing News reporters found that the company only made a verbal announcement instead of an official written notice about the change in the working hours to the employees. Meanwhile, no additional allowance would be provided, the report said. Some suspect such a move is designed to lay off workers in a disguised way, so that the company doesn’t have to compensate the employees who resign “out of their own will.”
Weibo page of Yao Jinbo, CEO of 58.com Screenshot of Weibo
Last week, employees of 58.com and some other Weibo users flooded the Weibo page of Yao Jinbo, the company’s CEO, and left comments under the latest posts of Yao questioning and criticizing the “996” policy, which was announced within the company but not known to the media yet, in late August and early September.
On Monday, the topic was once listed on Weibo’s hot topic list and there was even a hashtag called Five Eight City Nine Nine Six Working Hours which has been viewed for over 29 million times by Wednesday morning.
Under a post Yao posted on August 25, there are 214 comments, while the next post on August 29 has 739 comments and the one on August 31 has 2,754 comments with the most popular comment criticizing the company’s long working hours.
“Mr. Yao, can you officially explain to us what the ‘996’ policy on working hours means? If you ask us to work 12 hours a day and six days a week, shouldn’t the company release an official notice?” asked @ Y0600.
Comments criticizing the "996" policy on Yao's Weibo page Screenshot of Weibo
“If you wanna lay off the employees, you can just tell us,” said @ 冰冰And冰冰.
“996. When one in the family suffers, the whole family will suffer. It’s just a kind of disguised layoff,” said @ 刘潇Shaw.
“Now that there is a company putting forward a so-called ‘996’ working hours, shouldn’t the Labor Law say something? Is the Labor Law just a piece of paper?” said @ 衲道.
Some of 58.com’s employees said even before the “996” policy, they had usually worked until 10pm or even later without payment.
“I have been working from 8:30am to 9pm every day since I joined the company last year, and there is no extra payment for overtime work on Saturday,” said @ WJ-Mao.
Some of the 58.com employees confirmed to the Beijing News that the extra working hours are stipulated by each department in the company, and employees have been asked to work overtime before the “996” policy was announced. But the Public Relations department of the company said they didn’t receive such reports from the employees before, the Beijing News reported.
Reasons behind anger
In fact, long working hours are not something new in today’s China especially in some big IT companies or start-ups which compete on cost and speed. According to one estimate by a researcher at Beijing Normal University, Chinese workers log an average of 2,000-2,200 working hours each year – far higher than their counterparts in the United States (1,790 hours per year), the Netherlands (1,419), Germany (1,371) and even Japan (1,719), according to OECD statistics.
In one video that went viral this summer, an amateur Shanghai choir devoted a tongue-in-cheek song to their status as “overtime dogs” – a slang term for white-collar workers – entitled “My Body Is Hollowed Out.”
“Who needs sleep? What a waste of time!” the song goes. “Who needs to eat when PowerPoint is my sustenance?”
According to a regulation of the State Council released in 1995, the working hours for an employee should be eight hours per day and 40 hours per week. It also said that the right to rest is a legal right that an employee must have in order to stay healthy, recover the physical and mental energy, take part in social activity as well as perform domestic duties.
According to Liu Changsong, a lawyer based in Beijing, the so-called “996” policy is “obviously illegal”, because according to China’s Labor Law, the company must consult with the labor union and the workers before it prolongs the working hours.
“Improving performance is not a special reason for 58.com to prolong the working hours, and asking the employees to work 12 hours a day and 72 hours a week seriously violates the workers right to rest,” Liu said.
In 2013, 58.com got listed on NASDAQ, and acquired its largest competitor in China, Ganji.com, in 2014. Now that 58.com has become the largest classified website providing information on local services, it’s difficult to believe that requiring employees to work long hours is related to poor performance, some commented.