Author: Alessandro Hu
The 996 working system represents the work culture practiced by many Chinese companies (mostly tech companies). It forces a great number of workers to an excessive and gruelling workload: the work schedule starts at 9 a.m., goes off at 9 p.m., and comprehends 1 hour (or less) of resting time at noon and evening. On average, employees work more than 10 hours a day for 6 days a week.
According to China’s Labour Law, a standard workday should not exceed 8 hours, with a maximum of 44 hours a week. Any work beyond requires extra overtime pay, with a maximum of 3 additional hours in a single day, and a maximum of 36 overtime hours in a month. However, this has not been well enforced.
Nevertheless, the 996 working system has been recognised as the factor of success by numerous firms, such as the e-commerce tycoon Alibaba: Jack Ma said it was a “blessing” for anyone to be part of the so-called “996 work culture”.
Strong protests come from the youngest: unlike their parents who believed that hard work pays off, there has been a growing sense of dissatisfaction among young workers, who demand more humane employment systems. The “tang ping” movement – literally to “lie flat” – has gained popularity in recent years, referring to the idea that people should not overwork but, instead, be satisfied with more attainable achievements.
In August 2021, the Supreme People’s Court of China and the country’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security jointly issued a typical case of overtime which included 10 court decisions on labour disputes about overtime work and corresponding compensation. They explicitly stipulated that the 996 working system seriously violated legal provisions on extending the upper limit of working hours and should, therefore, be deemed invalid.
Following the guidance from the Supreme Court, lower courts in China will also be more likely to support the stance of workers in similar labour disputes. Workers may now also feel more emboldened to invoke their rights under the labour laws when these have been mistreated.