Starting in mid-October, an open-ended “company schedule” on the Internet platform became popular in China. It has a resounding bilingual slogan in Chinese and English: “Worker Lives Matter! Workers also need life!”

This table contains the work and rest hours of many Internet companies in different regions and different positions, detailed to commuting time, lunch and dinner time, working days in a week, whether newcomers write daily/weekly reports, and so on. According to Chinese media reports, only three days after the form was launched, the pageviews have exceeded 100,000. The BBC reporter observed that as of October 19, the form had collected about 6,500 pieces of data in Tencent documents.

This is the latest way for employees in the Chinese Internet industry to complain about the “996” work model. “996” refers to working six days a week from nine to nine. This mode of work has been praised by many well-known Chinese entrepreneurs such as Jack Ma and Liu Qiangdong, but there have also been many sudden deaths of young employees, which has aroused public anger.

This form has evolved from the initial collective sharing of company work and rest information to a larger platform for expressing dissatisfaction and broader labor demands. It has become the latest case of collective action against workers in China in the Internet era.

Metamorphosis of Internet Forms

According to Chinese media reports, This form It was originally created in mid-October by 4 fresh graduates. Their youngest is 20 years old and the oldest is 25 years old. They have a bachelor or master degree, and they all have internships in technical positions in major Internet companies. At present, it is the autumn recruitment of fresh graduates in China. These graduates have won the favor of several major Internet companies at the same time, and they are choosing which one to find a job.

On the Chinese social media Zhihu, the screen name “Bald Head Can Be Stronger” is believed to be one of the founders. Self-proclaimed “a college preparatory program ape”, he said on Zhihu, “Due to some reasons, the working hours of some companies are not transparent, and working hours are a very important factor in choosing an offer. So we created this table to share information. The so-called so-called. Everyone is for me, and I am for everyone.” He did not respond to a request for an interview from a BBC reporter, and another founder also declined the request for an interview.

The founder initially created this “company schedule” on the Tencent platform. As more and more people share and fill out the form on social media platforms such as WeChat, the data in the form is getting bigger and bigger like a snowball.

According to the BBC reporter’s observation, the number of people who were online at the same time on this form remained around 300 during the day, and reached nearly a thousand at the peak of the night.

After the spread of the form, many programmers or people with relevant knowledge in the spirit of “geeks” offered suggestions for improvement to the creators and assisted them in technically updating the form.

For example, on October 16, “Baldness can become stronger” said on Zhihu that the team established a “summary table”, synchronized with the collected data, and will update the data in the early morning of each day.

The founder also classified the table by industry, in addition to the Internet industry, there are also finance and construction industries. The companies covered by the table include not only big companies such as Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and Huawei, but also many unknown local small and medium-sized enterprises. Since the people who contributed the data fill in anonymously, it is impossible to ensure that the content is completely authentic.

In addition, in terms of the filling process, from initially allowing multiple people to edit online at the same time, it was updated to fill out the form by filling in the questionnaire. The creator later turned off the editing rights of the table to avoid malicious editing or deletion.

Perhaps because someone questioned whether the form leaked corporate secrets, the creator also explained it. At the far right of the top of the table, it reads, “This data is the work and rest time shared by individuals voluntarily. The so-called company department posts are only personal work. Therefore, this data is not confidential data of any company and is not related to the company.”

The sponsor also gave a brief explanation on the authenticity of the data, ownership, and how to deal with violations.

To prevent the form from being reported or deleted, the creator added a warehouse backup on GitHub. GitHub is an open source community owned by Microsoft for hosting and sharing code. According to its Chinese official website, 50 million developers use the platform. As of October 20, the GitHub warehouse where this “company schedule” is located has reached 11,600 stars.

From the creation of a form by a few graduates to the collaborative editing and maintenance by many netizens, this form has produced one updated version after another, just like an Internet product that is constantly upgrading and iterating.

“Reflects the evolution of the Chinese labor movement”

In two weeks, this form was widely spread on QQ, WeChat, Zhihu and other platforms, which caused a lot of response.

Someone left a message under the knowledge problem involved in the form, and once again expressed dissatisfaction with the already criticized “996” work model. The netizen “Xuanyuan Zhifeng” said, “We strikers are tools in the hands of capitalists. When we were young, this tool was well-known, able to charge, fight, 996, and stay up late to sign the Struggle Agreement. They appreciate you. Plus; when you can’t get 996 and can’t stay up late to charge, they abandon you like a shoe.”

Some netizens expressed support for the “Worker Lives Matter” operation. The person with the screen name “Chen Qi” said, “This is another big coalition of programmers after 996.ICU…to a certain extent it reflects the will to beat workers and force capitalists to make concessions.” Another netizen suggested, “Now it’s just “sharing work and rest time”, and then you can refine it and share “salary” and “supervisor’s evaluation.”

Others reposted this form on WeChat and called for “expanding follow-up projects and paying attention to broader labor rights issues,” including the squeeze of interns, unfair treatment of female laborers, and irregular working hours under labor outsourcing.

“The initiator may not initially want to engage in a labor movement, but just want to share information, but because of such voices and needs in society, they hope to unite colleagues in the Internet industry, so they can be further developed.” Liao Kangyu, a scholar in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge Hong Yu Liu) said in an interview with BBC Chinese. He specializes in labor relations in China’s new technology industry.

Liao Kangyu believes that in the past, labor rights protection actions in China were generally led by labor organizations or individual actors. However, in the past five years, the government has continuously cracked down on NGOs and made labor movement difficult. “This has provided space for the Internet in disguise.”

After the “996.ICU” operation received widespread attention in 2019, many online mutual assistance behaviors have emerged in China. For example, some people initiated “996.Law”, how to conduct labor arbitration in science popularization, ask for compensation, etc.; others used blockchain technology to create the “996.Blockchain” project to help workers obtain evidence, etc.

According to Liao Kangyu’s analysis, in the Internet industry, many people have graduated from top-tier universities in China or studied abroad. They are more or less inspired by foreign trade union culture. After meeting their needs for food, clothing, housing and transportation, they hope to have dignity at work. Treatment.

“This reflects the evolution of the Chinese labor movement,” Liao Kangyu said.

In the past, many Chinese workers’ strikes or rights defenses were due to employers’ breaches of labor contracts. For example, the contract stated that overtime work required additional wages, but in reality, they did not. Since the rebellion against the “996” work model in 2019, the demands have focused on respecting the rights of workers as human beings, including requiring the government to open up the flow of information, and requiring employers to respect individuals in setting up a family, balancing their lives, and expanding their interests outside of work.

“From the requirement of the most basic respect for the spirit of the contract, it has transitioned to the issue of requiring the protection of labor dignity.” Liao Kangyu said.

It is also worth mentioning that online mutual assistance behaviors similar to this time sharing information have also appeared on other occasions. For example, after the heavy rains in Henan caused floods in July this year, some netizens set up mutual assistance forms through social media, sorted out and shared the specific locations of help seekers, so that rescue organizations could find them as soon as possible.

The inexplicable overtime culture

The analysis believes that the current structure of the Internet industry determines that the “996” work model will continue for some time.

In the past decade or so, the Internet industry has become a key driving force for China’s economic growth. China is trying to gain a foothold in the global emerging technology market. The government has increased investment in infrastructure projects such as science and technology parks in many provinces, and provided tax incentives to information technology and software open companies. Many companies hope to catch up with the “first train” of favorable national policies, so when they lacked core technological innovation in the early stage, they took time to seize the opportunity.

Every Internet industry will have fierce competition in the early stage. For example, there are dozens of platforms for food delivery services such as Meituan, Ele.me, Dianping, Baidu Waimai and so on. For these companies, to seize the opportunity, fast fish can eat slow fish, often means that they can dominate the market. This strategic purpose has further intensified competition among similar companies.

The founder of an Internet company based in Suzhou bluntly told BBC Chinese, “Overtime is certain, and the current real environment cannot be changed. If you don’t move forward, your opponent will move forward.”

His company was established in 2019 and is currently in a growth stage. It is unable to pay overtime at all. It can only be compensated by measures such as increasing benefits, upgrading equipment, and strengthening team building. “At least let employees feel that overtime can also be in a positive environment, and it is relatively reasonable.” He said.

The founder was a programmer. When he first entered the industry, he was disgusted with the overtime culture in the industry, but he gradually felt that he “had to follow the trend.” He said, “With the increase in working years, I gradually get used to it, because everyone in this industry is the same and there is no choice.”

In addition, the talent competition for Internet companies is also quite fierce. Many graduates squeeze their heads and want to enter large companies, which increases the sense of crisis among employees, and they have to work hard to improve their competitiveness.

“These factors have exacerbated the imbalance of labor relations,” said Liao Kangyu of Cambridge University. “From the perspective of wage earners, it is difficult to negotiate prices with the company.”

In recent years, when more Internet companies have emerged, China’s overall economy has shown signs of slowing down. As the company’s share of benefits from the market decreases, the employee’s share will naturally decrease. Working for the same long hours but not getting the same pay as in the past, dissatisfaction began to spread. In 2019, a programmer initiated the “996.ICU” action. Liao Kangyu called it the “first fire” against 996.

But change is happening. The founder of the aforementioned Internet company said that his biggest headache now is that he can’t hire employees. “Young people nowadays don’t care about salary so much. When they come in, they ask about the length of work, the situation of overtime on weekdays, and whether they work overtime on weekends.”

Law and reality

According to China’s “Labor Law”, the standard work system is eight hours per day, with a maximum of 44 hours per week. Any work beyond this period will be required to pay overtime.At the end of August this year, the Supreme People’s Court of China and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security jointly issued a Typical Case , Which clearly pointed out that the “996” work model violated the law.

However, there is still a gap between legal provisions and law enforcement.

“The central government has political pressure to maintain the legitimacy of its rule, so it needs to balance the interests of all parties. But at the local level, economic growth is the primary consideration, (the authorities) will not restrict capitalists from developing their interests.” The Department of Sociology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong Associate Professor Chen Jingci spoke to BBC Chinese.

Chen Jingci also said that if people only express their demands anonymously on the Internet, and no one dares to stand up for real-name complaints, then the government will not be able to enforce the law.

However, it is very difficult for individuals to produce evidence at the legal level, and individuals may also be at risk. “For example, the unit arranges more work tasks during standard working hours, forcing employees to extend their working hours. This so-called “voluntary” overtime behavior may not require payment of overtime pay.” Chen Jingci said.

The solution in many Western countries is to set up trade unions to fight for reasonable working conditions through physical actions.

“China’s trade unions have not played their due role, especially in the protection of the rights and interests of grassroots employees,” said Chen Jingci. “The All-China Federation of Trade Unions formulates rules and regulations in terms of policies, but is there a trade union at the enterprise level? Can the union play a role? This is a big question.”

Some analysts also said that the “Workers Live Matter” campaign can be developed and spread, which also shows that the Chinese government has given a certain amount of space to labor rights protection activities.

“If the pressure is too tight, it may cause hidden dangers to social instability,” Chen Jingci said. “At the same time, appropriately restricting the profiteering behavior of large Internet companies is also in line with the “common prosperity” policy being promoted by the state.”

Liao Kangyu believes that on the one hand, the government is a market regulator and needs to regulate the situation of Internet companies and employees to a certain extent; on the other hand, it must let go of companies to enhance the innovative vitality of private enterprises and their competitiveness in the global market.

However, once network mutual assistance has formed a certain degree of influence, the intensity of supervision may change at any time.

Sure enough, on the evening of October 19, the Zhihu webpage and Tencent platform related to the “company schedule” could no longer be opened.

But the promoters have not given up yet. Two days later, they migrated the “company schedule” from the original Tencent document to the Kingsoft document, and also created a WeChat applet to facilitate finding information. The game of “one foot high and one foot high” continues.