Microsoft Employees Reject Jack Ma’s 996 Theory: Is This Exploitation Of Tech Employees??

Bringing in one of the clips from a 1936 released satirical Charlie Chaplin film, Modern Times, which juxtaposes an industrial manager driving his herd of labourers as sheep and making them work, with their sad and exhausted faces and gulping a worker into their colossal factory machine, due to the worker’s inability to tighten the screw strong enough and ultimately throwing him out on the streets, reminds me of the work condition that tech and internet company employees are facing in modern China.

The Corporate Crisis Of Modern China

One of China’s richest men and a worldwide business tycoon, Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, initiated the infamous ‘996’ work practice, which means working from 9 a.m.–9 p.m. every day, and six days a week. He entrusts that people in China should work for 72 hours in a week or 12 hours a day for six days.

Jack Ma comes from a poor background and is known to have started the revolutionary company Alibaba by scraping off money from his friends. He says that the key to his success was grinding himself in work endlessly. His advice to complaining workers was modelled in the rhetoric that’s become commonplace in China’s tech sector – “How do you achieve the success you want without paying extra effort and time?”

He says that nobody has achieved success working 40 hours a week. Adding to this, some big names in China, like ByteFence, JD.com, Huawei, Tencent, Qihoo 360 and many more have agreed and have established that workers who cannot perform overtime may as well be treated as ‘slagers’ and thrown out of the companies.

Many start-ups and well-established companies in China follow the 996 schedule and believe that it is not about overtime but about showing loyalty and dedication to the company you’re working in, as workers aren’t paid for the extra time they serve. This pattern is followed not only by the young employees of the companies but also by the senior executives, as they often work on Sundays and holidays as well.

This practice is highly being criticized by many, as the concept of work-life balance ceases to exist. Elon Musk backs this up by stating that when he started his career, he used to work for 120 hours a week and expresses his grief for all the Chinese workers. He states that the company’s future ran so much in his mind that he had to rely upon medicines and sedatives to go to sleep.

Labour Law

Article 41 of the Law states that an employee cannot work for more than 40 hours a week at permanent or full time waged work. The work hours to be prolonged, in general, shall be no longer than one hour a day, or no more than three hours a day if such prolonging is called for due to special reasons and under the condition that the physical health of labourers is guaranteed. The work time to be prolonged shall not exceed, however, 36 hours a month.

Chinese companies believe that if they comply with such a law, there will be no scope of economic and technological growth in the Chinese markets.

The problem with 996 is not the long hours, but the lack of autonomy that workers have over the organisation of their time. The companies should embrace that it is not humanly possible in such gruesome conditions and handle a set life at the same time. A growing number of jurisdictions have adopted measures that give workers the rights to adjust their working schedules. The real issue is not about long working hours, but a plea for greater control over what we do with our time.

What Statistics Say?

Among the Chinese population, the feelings of worry and stress have hit decade highs, with 40% saying they experience a lot of stress?—?an increase of 12 %in just one year. About 60% have reported having trouble sleeping.

Backed by a report by Maimai Data Research Lab, the average working tenure for tech employees in Silicon Valley companies like Google and Facebook is about 3.2 years, whereas in Chinese tech firms the figure is less than 2.6 years. This is naturally due to inhumane working habits.

China’s rapid economic transformation has given rise to a sizeable middle class, with almost 70% of the country’s urban population making between $9,000 and $34,000 annually in 2012. In 2000, this figure turned out to be just 4%. This means that this gruelling work ethic is believed to be the very reason for China’s sudden and accelerated growth over the last 10 years.

The Backlash Of “996 ICU” & Microsoft’s Role In It

The combination of these stressors means that tech firms are having to squeeze more work out of employees or lower costs by cutting down on benefits and bonuses.

The Great Resentment

In late March, a group of software developers took to protesting the 996 work culture on the code-hosting platform Github. It means “tolerating the 996 working schedule, you will end in an intensive care unit (ICU).” Internet companies become the main target of the 996 working schedule. The project “996 ICU” received support from a large number of employees working for well-known Internet companies, including Huawei, JD.com and Alibaba. The project was therefore known as a protest of programmers.

In response to this, a group of Microsoft employees have published a letter on the software development platform Github in solidarity with tech workers in China. They called on Chinese tech companies to comply with local labour laws, which limit their workers to 40 hours a week, with a maximum of 36 hours per month of overtime.

The discussion has since gained widespread attention on social media and users on Github have compiled a blacklist of over 150 companies that push their employees to do overtime or work excessive hours, including   Huawei, Bytedance and Alibaba. It quickly became one of the fastest-growing GitHub repositories in the service’s history, being starred more than 200,000 times.

Several local Chinese browsers have already blocked access to 996.ICU, including Tencent, Alibaba, Xiaomi, and Qihoo 360. However, since 996.ICU is hosted on GitHub, the repository can’t be blocked at a network level without blocking the entire site, which would be catastrophic to Chinese software developers. The letter initially had 30 signatures, which gradually increased. The move is the latest internal tech protest.

In conclusion to this, we believe what Jack says is permeable hat if you love what you do, you can never get tired of doing it, while every minute of the same job becomes torturing if you don’t like it. I contrary to this, entrusting such harsh work conditions on everyone is not how you check if a person loves the job. Basic human rights of every employee are to be taken into account.

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