Chinese developers use GitHub to protest long work hours

Chinese technology workers are protesting long hours of work, and have taken the fight to GitHub. If you checked the list of GitHub trends in recent days, you may have seen a repository called 996.ICU, a reference to work from 9 to 9 p. M. During the six days of the week, and then it is sent to an intensive care unit due to exhaustion. Instead of code, the repository contains a collection of claims in the workplace against the largest and most well-known technology companies in China, such as Alibaba, Huawei, Bytedance, DJI and others.

The original anonymous developer published the project for the first time on the Chinese social network. V2EX platform, saying that such an intense work schedule prevented them from "resting and having time to talk with family members".

Anyone can contribute to the repository, although the lists are intended for Chinese workers. For a shipment to be accepted, people are supposed to present evidence, often in the form of social media posts or news articles, but sometimes they include internal tests within the company. The developers of the repository warn users not to directly capture the internal data of companies, but use the screenshot to avoid a little better detection. They also offer to anyone who believes that a company has been incorrectly accused of correcting or deleting data. The repository has grown in popularity in recent days, generating translated versions in English, Hindi, Spanish, Russian, Irish, Gaelic, Persian and other languages.

Chinese developers say Huawei encourages workers to voluntarily give up holidays, overtime and parental leave in exchange for large annual bonuses, which point to a 2010 Chinese news article as evidence. The article also mentions an employee who died in 2006 due to fatigue from overwork and two employees who committed suicide in 2008 due to "unbearable pressure". Since then, Huawei has restricted excessive extra time to a certain extent, according to the report, although the story is vague about how. Huawei did not respond to the comment at the time of publication.

As an Internet user, Liu Xuan, put it on the Chinese Qhihu Qi site, "For some bosses, hiring an employee is like buying a machine: I wish we could work 24 hours a day, skipping over bathrooms. "Four hundred and sixty-five users agreed with Liu's response.

Similarly, developers accuse Alibaba of promoting a work culture where workers voluntarily put 996 hours, although "the company has never forced anyone to work overtime", all do so voluntarily in a competitive environment where compensation is high, according to a 2018 news publication. A note in the repository reads: After seeing these horrible numbers of Alibaba's overtime work culture, he will also resign! "A worker who identified himself as an employee of Ant Financial, an Alibaba affiliate who makes the Alipay payment platform, said wryly" The workers here are really treated like ants. "Alibaba declined to comment for this story.

It is not clear who took the decision. It's a way to track complaints on GitHub, but it offers a unique level of privacy and censorship resistance to vulnerable workers. The site is a fundamental resource for technology companies in the US. UU And China equally, since it provides access to a large amount of open source code to continue. As a result, any effort to block the site could harm employers much more than employees. In 2013, when GitHub was blocked for several days, Google's former head of Chinese operations, Kai-Fu Lee, criticized the censorship and said in a Weibo publication since then deleted: "Blocking GitHub is unjustifiable and will only derail the programmers of the nation. " of the world, at the same time that it produces a loss of competitiveness and vision ".

If 996.ICU were removed, users can easily make backup copies of the repository beforehand. And even if GitHub is somehow censored, users can turn to similar services like GitLab, says security researcher Victor Gevers, who works for the nonprofit GDI and has previously discovered several Chinese databases. It is also likely that GitHub will simply comply with any request from the Chinese government.

"Github is owned by Microsoft." A small complaint from the Chinese government and that repository will disappear very quickly, since Microsoft will do anything to maintain a good business relationship, "says Gevers, Microsoft continues to operate in China and censors the results. search engine in its Bing search engine, to comply with local laws GitHub did not respond to the comment

China's labor laws specify that employees should not work more than three hours of overtime per day and no more than 36 hours of overtime per month Employees must also receive 150 percent of their usual salary for overtime worked, 200 percent of their salary for working a day off without receiving a day of compensation in exchange, and 300 percent of your salary for working a national holiday, such as the Year New. Day. Developers are accusing these technology companies of illegal activity, saying they are rarely paid the overtime wage that the law has specified.

However, there are gaps in those labor laws for these technology companies, says Mary Gallagher, a political science professor. director of the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan. In accordance with local regulations or employers' repression, employees could be classified as part of the standard system included in China's labor laws, or as excluded employees who work by season or in white-collar jobs where they are not calculated. extraordinary hours. Gallagher explained: "Locations and employers can abuse the technology classification system, for example, by classifying lower-level workers as" senior managers. "Then, they will work many extra hours without additional compensation."

Workers in China are usually unprotected by unions, as the official union is overseen by the Communist Party of China and often plays a passive role in helping workers defend their rights . However, technology employees have expressed their concerns before and Chinese labor advocates have found it difficult to help them, since most of the overtime work is done on a voluntary basis.

"The technology industry in China is very stressful, employees work long hours and are highly competitive," says China Labor Watch executive director Li Qiang. He explains: "Previously, we received some complaints from the employees of the technology companies. However, it was difficult to provide assistance, since their salaries are actually much higher than the minimum wage standard and they voluntarily put in extra hours due to the competitive environment. If they do not set the hours, they can simply be fired. (Your contracts may establish that if the employee does not meet a performance objective, they will fire you). "

Long hours in competitive work environments are not a problem that is specific to Chinese developers, nor are they as extreme as some of the horror stories that have emerged about the mistreatment of factory workers. in China and abroad.

Unfortunately, even after documenting all labor injustices and possible violations of China's labor laws, technology workers can face significant challenges in demanding change. "Gallagher points out economic problems and the general inertia of China when it comes to legal reform. "I think that with the economic slowdown, the government has little desire to appease workers," he says. "Technological workers will probably have even more difficulties than manufacturing workers. who sustain a collective effort in the protests, are more likely to simply move with the feet and find a different company with a higher salary. "

In fact, there is already a list that details companies that offer fairer work hours. It is currently the third trend repository on GitHub and is called 955.WLB, a reference to 9AM to 5PM working hours, five days a week for a healthy balance between work and family life. The companies that have been included in the healthy work-life balance list include WeWork, Google, Microsoft, Intel, IBM and HP, which have offices in Shanghai, where the creator of the list is based. Many of these companies are notably foreign, but several Chinese companies are on the list, including Douban (a social media network similar to Pinterest). As the developers said, the list is "designed to allow more people to flee the 996 and join the ranks of 955."

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