Employee death renews debate over ‘996’ culture

Jack Ma once lauded the Chinese tech sector’s controversial culture of overwork

Employee death renews debate over ‘996’ culture

News of a Chinese tech employee’s death just before the new year has gone viral online and renewed discussions over the industry’s brutal culture of overwork.

Pinduoduo, a local e-commerce giant, had confirmed the death in a statement but did not link it to her work and declined any details or comments on the incident. This was released after the news had gone viral on Chinese social media.

This week, Shanghai’s local labour authority announced plans to investigate the company’s working conditions.

Despite a lack of clear evidence, netizens alleged that the young employee had died due to the industry’s ‘996’ work culture. It was reported that she collapsed while walking home with colleagues after working long hours on December 29.

The death occurred just days after Pinduoduo’s founder, Colin Huang, was labelled as China’s second-richest person, overtaking billionaires like Tencent’s Pony Ma and Alibaba Group’s Jack Ma, reported the South China Morning Post.

Read more: China’s richest man defends '996' work schedule

The notorious 9am to 9pm work life
Discussions over ‘996’ started trending again this week following the incident. The term gained notoriety globally in 2019 after Jack Ma defended the culture as a ‘huge blessing’.

‘996’ refers to the practice of labouring over 72-hour workweeks, from 9am to 9pm for six days a week.

Ma was blasted for saying he had no regrets working 12-hour shifts for six days a week to build his e-commerce empire.

Online, employees claimed that the CEO had somewhat expected his employees to adopt the ‘996’ working schedule as well.

Read more: Jack Ma on '996' overtime culture

Following backlash, Ma retracted his statement just days after, branding the culture as “foolish” and calling out companies that enforced the schedule.

Officially, China’s Labour Law allows employees to extend work hours by up to three hours for ‘special reasons’. However, staff were not allowed to work more than 36 extra hours in a month.

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