Rebellion against the 72-hour week | TIME ONLINE


When Hu Mei talked about her job a few years ago, many still responded with admiration: "Oh, wow, you did it" or "I'd like to start with you," it said. The 31-year-old is an employee of a Beijing start-up that develops online games. She finds her salary okay. Your office is located on the 14th floor of a brand new skyscraper in the northwest of the city overlooking a park. On the office floor there is a company café with a sofa corner and a foosball table. Most colleagues are their age.

But now she doubts that she has found her dream job. She regularly starts work at nine in the morning with her work. In the evening, she seldom leaves the office before 9pm. And since she's been traveling to the subway line for more than an hour, she often can not get to bed before midnight. She also has to work on Saturdays. "996" – working from nine to nine o'clock, six days a week, without additional pay – this is also the rule in the company. In her employment contract is the 40-hour week.

"No sleep, no sex, no life," headlines Hong Kong South China Morning Post and writes about the growing resistance over the past few weeks to the many overtime hours that are common in most Chinese tech companies. On the developer platform GitHub, a group of developers called the "996.ICU" in March to this protest. The activists have put a "black list" on the website with around 100 companies that have been proven to violate working time laws. Below are China largest tech companies Alibaba, Huawei, Tencent, Baidu, Xiaomi and Millions of times the page has been clicked since.

The addition ICU stands for intensive care unit and alludes to workers who end up in hospital intensive care due to overwork. In fact, employee deaths in many tech firms are "due to long overtime," she writes China Daily, a Chinese state newspaper.

The government is not amused

"We do not need those who comfortably work eight hours," said Richard Liu, chief executive of online retailer, and drew public outrage when he called the activists a lazybones. In the center of criticism, however, is Jack Ma, head of the online retailer Alibaba. The richest man in China called 996 and the 72-hour week a "great blessing." Young people should value the overtime culture that prevails in many tech companies and use it for themselves. Those who start their business should also be prepared to work twelve hours a day.

At first, the Chinese government had not made official statements. But it has not stopped the debate, as it is often common in authoritarian China in too heated controversy. Meanwhile, the organs of communication have taken a stand by the Communist leadership – in favor of the activists.

"996 has nothing to do with aspiration, it's about profit," criticized the journal issued by the Communist Party Banyuetan, Employees should pay attention to their health and be aware of their rights, writes the party organ people's Daily published Global Times, "You should dare to say 'no' to companies that do not respect labor law." The people's Daily even pointed out that in China, the 40-hour week applies. 36 overtime per month are allowed, but would have to be paid accordingly.

Jack Ma, himself a Communist Party member, has since become at least somewhat meek. Work should be fun, and within twelve hours a day, of course, should be time for reflection and personal development, he wrote on Weibo, the Twitter-like Chinese short message service. Ma emphasized: "It's not about laborious physical work and it's not about exploitation." He attributes his own success to hard work. And he did not feel exploited after all.

Claims of the young generation

Thousands of tech companies have spoken on social media and shared their experiences. Some are already comparing themselves to workers from companies like Foxconn or Pegatron, known worldwide for their miserable ones working conditions and have become discredited in China. Technology companies such as Huawei or Tencent had deliberately demarcated themselves from these companies and promoted the "campus-like atmosphere" on their company premises. Of "exploitation, just in the modern garb," writes an activist about the conditions at Huawei.

These comparisons, however, the Beijing labor market expert Han Jun considered excessive. He also believes that the aspirations of the younger generation have increased. The personal attitudes toward working long hours have changed as prosperity and recreational opportunities increase, says the professor, who teaches at the Institute of Labor and Human Resources at the People's University in Beijing. Employees are more concerned about enjoying their free time.

However, Han's work ethic, as propagated by Jack Ma, does not hold Han up-to-date. In the changing economy, other qualities are in demand today than diligence. The need for special skills and creativity is growing, says Han. "If you ask your employees to work excessively long, then the quality of performance and efficiency will decrease."

Understand China? Continue reading the episodes of the ZEIT ONLINE column by Franka Lu.

. [dayToTranslate] Economy


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