Chinese developers rebel against long working hours with crowdsourced tell-all on employers

Despite modern labour laws, 72-hour work weeks are still common


Chinese software developers have crowdsourced a spreadsheet that dishes the dirt on working conditions at hundreds of employers.

Dubbed WorkingTime, the protest aims to offer transparency regarding how many work hours are expected. Many organisations expect 72-hour working weeks - an arrangement dubbed "996" after the 9am to 9pm, six days a week culture in place at many Chinese companies.

The practice has sometimes been promoted by the rich and famous: Alibaba's Jack Ma publicly stated that employees should actually want to work long hours and a job you love enough to spend that much time doing is a "blessing".

Chinese courts take a different view. A recent decision found 996-style hours aren't permissible, as Chinese law caps overtime at 36 hours per month and requires compensation for the extra hours. But China is not a workers' paradise, and the practice persists because oversight is limited and independent labour unions are illegal in the Middle Kingdom.

The WorkingTime project aims to assist developers looking for work to understand what they're signing up for.

"The opacity of working hours in some companies, working time is a very important factor in choosing an offer," wrote a movement founder on Chinese Q&A site Zhihu.

The spreadsheet in which workers record how many hours they work a week, job descriptions, breaks and other remarks strongly suggest that grueling hours remain at some workplaces. Others stick to a 40-ish hour working week and add perks like happy hours and subsidized housing.

The anecdotes, visible on an openly accessible spreadsheet associated with the project, provide a similar service for Chinese tech workers to web pages like Glassdoor – giving tips on company culture and requirements.

Some remarks include:

  • "I often go on business trips. I have been on business for half of a month. I leave work after 10 o'clock every night at the customer's site. I have to work overtime on weekends. The entire department has worked for two years except for the leaders."
  • "Feel free to ask for leave and lunch time, because it's the field work, whether you are in the company or not, and you can play games casually, regardless of the leader. If you drink too much, it's fine if you don't come."
  • "Mandatory to keep people on duty every night, compulsory all staff to work overtime every Saturday, no overtime pay, working hours over 10 hours."
  • "When the daily work cannot be completed, it is necessary to work overtime at home."
  • "The work pace is fast and the work content is highly saturated. Flexible commute, just do everything."

The WorkingTime project has gone viral, with the founders reporting over ten million views and thousands of entries as of last Tuesday. While the founders remain anonymous, contributors hail from a diverse subset of companies that includes some of China's big tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent, Huawei and Bytedance, as well as multinational companies such as SAP, Dyson, Intel and IBM.

According to the project's GitHub page, lawyers are currently pitching in to sort out legal issues prior to making the project freely downloadable. However, a summary table of data collated daily is already available in Chinese.

Unsurprisingly, the project has stirred some ire. The founders have asked that participants do not apply for editing permission, explaining that "due to malicious editing" such privileges will not be granted. ®

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