Top Chinese Governing Bodies Call ‘996’ Work Culture Illegal

On Thursday, China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the Supreme People’s Court released a collective memo of ten court decisions related to workplace overtime disputes, and said that the ‘996’ work culture – a 12-hour, six-day working schedule that had been popular among Chinese tech companies until recently – represents a serious violation of the law pertaining to maximum work hours.

China’s labor law stipulates that, “due to the needs of production and operation, the employer can extend the working hours after consultation with trade unions and workers and the extended working hours are generally no more than one hour per day. If it is necessary to extend the working hours due to special reasons, the working hours should be extended under the condition of ensuring the health of workers, which is no more than three hours per day and no more than 36 hours per month.”

In one case, an individual surnamed Zhang joined a courier company in June 2020 and was required to work from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. for six days a week. Two months later, Zhang refused to work overtime on the grounds that his working hours seriously exceeded the upper limit stipulated by law, while the company terminated the labor contract with Zhang. Then Zhang applied to the Labor and Human Resources Disputes Arbitration Committee in retaliation.

The Supreme People’s Court analyzed this typical case and said that the overtime system formulated by the employer stood in violation of laws, and that the overtime clauses in the labor contract should be deemed illegal and invalid.

SEE ALSO: Behind China’s 996 Overwork Culture: Shentong Express Fires Employee who Refuses to Work Overtime

The typical labor dispute cases published recently also involve analysis on questions such as “whether the laborer and the employer can conclude an agreement to give up overtime pay,” “whether overtime pay can be claimed,” “whether the employer and the labor dispatch service provider should bear joint and several liability for compensation when the laborer works overtime and suffers from work-related injuries, and whether the employer is required to pay overtime fee according to the law when the employer and the laborer agree with the pay package system.”

Recent overwork disputes in some industries and enterprises represent issues of widespread concern within Chinese society. According to the Supreme Law, workers shall enjoy corresponding rights and interests of labor remuneration, rest and vacation according to law. This time, the two government bodies jointly released typical cases to the public to remind employers of the risks of illegal activities, promote the regulation of employment according to law, clarify the expectation of workers’ rights protection and guide workers to defend their rights rationally and lawfully.