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China rules ‘996 work culture’ as illegal to prevent people from overworking

The 10 cases heard by the court consisted of workers saying they were being unfairly denied overtime pay

China has ruled that the ‘996 work culture’ in the country, a practice where people work from 9am to 9pm six days a week, is illegal.

In a statement, China’s top court and labor ministry detailed 10 court decisions related to labor disputes, many involving workers being forced to work overtime.

“Legally, workers have the right to corresponding compensation and rest times or holidays. Complying with national working hours is the obligation of employers. Further guidelines will be developed to resolve future labor disputes,” the statement said.

Why is ‘996 work culture’ a problem?

  • According to China’s labor laws, a standard workday is eight hours with a maximum of 44 hours a week. Any work beyond that requires extra pay for overtime, and monthly overtime totals are essentially limited to 36 hours.

  • However, this has not been well enforced as in many of the country’s big companies employees often work far longer hours and are not always compensated.

  • For example, a young woman died after working consecutive long shifts and another worker committed suicide. Both worked for the Chinese e-commerce platform Pinduoduo. After their deaths, the firm’s employees came forward to say they regularly worked more than 300 hours each month.

  • The 10 cases heard by the court consisted of workers saying they were being unfairly denied overtime pay and related compensation, including payment for injuries incurred while working overtime.

  • In one case, after he was sent by an employment agency to work in a media company, a worker named Li was found to have regularly worked about 300 hours or more each month for a year. He was not given more than three days off work in a month, which the court said severely violated his right to rest.

  • After Li fainted in a bathroom at work and died of a heart attack on December 1 as he neared the end of a 12-hour overnight shift, his relatives sought compensation for his death as well as funeral expenses.

  • In its ruling, the court said both the media company and the employment agency that directly hired Li were to bear joint responsibility for compensating the man’s family.

  • While the court acknowledged the intense competition that drives Chinese companies to maximize profits and cut labor costs, it said the extreme overtime harms workers’ physical and mental health, their family life and their ability to pursue a social life.

Will there be changes?

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