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China: tech workers spark debate over relentless working culture, by raising awareness of their situation
Planet Labor, 6 May 2019, n°11113 -

At the end of March, a group of programmers in China set up the webpage 996.ICU, to bring attention to the lengthy working hours that are common practice in the country’s tech sector (see articles n°11083 et 11099). The number 996 refers to the working pattern – from 9am to 9pm, 6 days per week – which the programmers underline could lead to workers ending up in the ICU (intensive care unit). The long working days and extensive overtime hours appear to have been commonplace in the IT sector since 2016. The webpage, which has been a channel for people to speak out about the realities of the industry, has achieved its objective, attracting the attention of the media, to the extent that some of the most well-known bosses in China’s e-commerce sector have reacted: Jack Ma of Alibaba et Qiangdong Liu of Jingdong. The duo have fuelled the fire by insisting on the need to work hard to be a devoted employee and even saying that being able to work such hours is lucky. The clash of these differing viewpoints has provoked a debate in China about working hours and above all the unwritten rule about overtime, as well as the value of the relentless working patterns at the basis of China’s economic growth.

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