Political advisors urge supervision of tech companies' '996' overtime policy
Published: Mar 11, 2021 09:15 PM
A female employee is working overtime at her desk. Photo: VCG

A female employee is working overtime at her desk. Photo: VCG

As the overtime culture has swept through many technology enterprises, including those in the internet, short video and e-commerce sectors in China, several members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) have called for supervision and punishment for imposing "996" and "big\small week" policies - euphemisms such companies use for mandatory overtime.

Li Guohua, a member of the CPPCC, said during this year's two sessions that the "996" issue, namely working 9 am to 9 pm and six days a week, exists in a situation where supervision is lacking. It's rare to see companies being penalized for this policy, and it's hard for employees to safeguard their right to rest, media reported.

Some companies have even put the "996" and "big\small week" (a six-day week every other week) into their regulations, which has affected employees' time to rest, Li said, calling for greater supervision of these companies.

"Overtime is not in line with China's determination to increase the quality of life for people. I hope regulators will treat the overtime culture with the same seriousness as they deal with wage arrears," Lv Guoquan, head of the research department of All-China federation of Trade Unions, was quoted as saying by media.

As many technology companies have grown fast in recent years, especially amid the pandemic that has boosted internet use, the mandatory overtime culture has developed. This has directly or indirectly resulted in many labor disputes that have attracted netizens' attention.  

According to China's Labor Law, the standard working time is eight hours per day, and total weekly work hours should not exceed 44 hours.

"These overtime policies are obviously not in line with the law, because the Labor Law stipulates that normally, overtime should not exceed one hour per day, and no longer than three hours per day under special circumstances, and the total monthly overtime should not exceed 36 hours," Zhao Zhanling, a legal counsel at the Beijing-based Internet Society of China, told the Global Times on Thursday.

However, Zhao noted that employees are the vulnerable group compared with employers, and mostly they just complain online instead of taking legal actions to protect their rights.

Further, it can be hard to define "overtime" especially for firms that don't require people to punch a time clock. For example, sometimes it's hard to judge whether the overtime is due to employees' inefficiency or excessive workloads, according to Zhao.

To solve the long-standing overtime issue, which takes time, three parties must make an effort: self-discipline for employers, enhanced supervision by regulators, and the increase of legal awareness among employees, Zhao noted.

"For companies that intentionally increase working hours to lower labor costs, self-discipline won't be enough. It requires regulators' strong law enforcement," Zhang said, adding "to increase employees' legal awareness is also an important way."