Workers at some of China’s leading technology companies are protesting online against their grueling work schedules, in a rare push back against labor standards in the communist country.
The campaign, known as 996.icu, started with various posts on Microsoft’s code sharing website Github.com and has since become second highest bookmarked project on the open source collaborative site.
The 996 is a reference to the 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. workday, six days a week, that most technology workers must endure. The campaign has also spread onto other platforms, including the social media website Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. It also implies that those who work such hours will eventually end up in the hospital.
“What’s the difference between these 996 companies and the old landlords who oppressed peasants???” one post on Weibo read.
However, organizers have attempted to downplay talk of a political uprising, instead saying they are focused on improving labor conditions for workers at major companies, that include Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, JD.com, Inc., and drone maker DJI Technology Co., Ltd.
“This is not a political movement,” the campaign declares. “We firmly uphold the labor law and require employers to respect the legitimate rights and interests of their employees.”
Despite being a communist country, China’s labor laws are remarkably relaxed, a fact that has helped drive the country’s rapid economic growth over recent decades. Under labor laws, employers can demand that employees work overtime for up to three hours a day, although the maximum amount someone can work is 36 hours per month.
To push their case, the CEO of the Shanghai-based tech startup Dimension has even published an “Anti-996” open source license that aims to prevent companies from accessing open source software if they fail to comply with local labor laws. Katt Gu, a law and regulatory consultant at Dimension, told Reuters the campaign could be a turning point.
“It’s a time to punish those big evil companies who are not protecting their employees’ rights,” she said. “The programmer group is very civilized and educated. It’s really a tender and soft way, and an effective way to fight for their rights.”