Bulletins

China's government calls '996' schedule illegal

Workers in a Chinese office.
Workers in a Chinese office.
Photo: Getty Images
The "996" work culture — a 12-hour, six-day work schedule that had been popular among Chinese tech companies until recently — is a serious violation of Chinese labor law, according to China's Supreme People's Court and its Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

On Thursday, the two government bodies released a collective memo of ten court decisions related to workplace overtime disputes. In one case, an employee of an unnamed courier company was fired for challenging the firm's 996 work schedule. China's current labor law requires that work overtime not exceed 36 hours in one month, but under the 996 schedule, an employee's monthly overtime can reach 128 hours. In the Thursday memo, the Supreme People's Court said the 996 schedule is "a serious violation of the law pertaining to maximum work hours" and the courier company's policy should be deemed invalid.

While the 996 schedule has always violated labor laws on the books, rules curbing overtime have long been honored in the breach, and the government has kept a hands off attitude. 996 was embraced and promoted by many Chinese tech companies to power high-speed growth. Jack Ma, of all tech figures, famously said 996 should be seen as a "blessing." But most of China's Big Tech companies have terminated the overtime schedules in the past few months after public opinion turned against it, following several high-profile overwork deaths. Now the highest judicial body in government is making clear it's also opposed.

On social media, people still doubt whether this latest affirmation from the Chinese government will bring about actual change in the workplace. "Get back to me when you can enforce [the law]," says one popular Weibo comment with over 23,000 likes. Other comments note that industries beyond tech are also rife with illegal overtime schedules.

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