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Chinese workers are responding to Github protests over China’s grueling “996” work schedule, with many expressing wariness about whether the protest can change China’s long-lasting overtime work culture.
Last month, an anonymous post on Github—a software resource website—urged workers to rally against forced “996” schedules, shorthand for working overtime from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days each week. The post called out companies that enforce a 996 work schedule and urged all developers to license their projects as “Anti 996,” in an effort to limit the software that so-called “anti-labor” companies are allowed to use.
Proponents of 996 work culture argue that China’s technology industry is fast-paced and competitive, and overtime work is an unavoidable necessity. Many tech workers in Shanghai, however, argued the opposite.
Xia Rongrong, a brand consultant at an advertising firm, said that 996 could reduce productivity in the long term. “When you are working, you’re doing it with an attitude,” she said. “The complaints on the internet right now came about because we’ve had this situation for a long time, which just demonstrates that people haven’t been working the 996 schedule willingly. They just wanted to keep their jobs, so they continued to let it happen.”
At some Chinese companies, overtime work is obligatory but not officially so.
“My boss likes to see us working overtime,” said Michelle Lu, an HR employee at a real estate company. “Sometimes I can leave at 6 p.m. but nobody in the office will go home until my boss says we can.”
Most workers who spoke with TechNode believe that a 996 work schedule goes against Chinese labor laws. When asked, however, whether they would take legal action to protect their own labor rights, many said they would prefer to simply change jobs.
Among those who were wary about a legal fight was Wang Xin, a former IT employee. He explained, “I don’t really know much about the laws.”
Likewise, many were dubious about the efficacy of an online protest. Wayne Wu, an engineer in Shanghai, said he’s seen action like this before and is not optimistic about the outcome.
“A group of people won’t be able to successfully resist,” he said. “There have been many protests before. They lasted half a year. Three or four months will go by and then you’ll no longer hear a sound.”