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China’s stunning rebuke of ‘excessive’ workplace practice

Dozens of pedestrians in China wearing masks, Chinese flag.
China's 996 workplace culture has been called into question. (Images: Getty).

China’s top court has blasted companies for overworking their employees, issuing a strong condemnation of the “996” practice endorsed by Alibaba mogul Jack Ma.

The Supreme People’s Court of China wrote that “extreme overtime work” in certain sectors has received widespread attention and called for companies to recognise workers’ rights to “rest and vacation”.

And, it added in its lengthy statement: “Adhering to the national working hour system is the legal obligation of employers.”

The 996 concept is to work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week.

The AU$57 billion Alibaba, Ma, wrote on a Weibo blog post in 2019 that 996 as “not a problem” if workers enjoy their role, and that workers who fail to work those hours “won't taste the happiness and rewards of hard work”.

In other comments, he said the ability to work 996 should be considered a “huge blessing”.

Ma’s approach isn’t rare: the court cited several examples across a range of industries with similar expectations of employees.

Under Chinese labour law, normal work time should not exceed eight hours per day.

"There is nothing wrong with advocating working hard, but it cannot be a shield for employers to evade [their] legal responsibilities," the court said.

The court also highlighted one delivery company that forced a worker to comply with 996 hours, and fired the worker when they declined to work the hours.

The court ruled the company should compensate the worker 8,000 yuan (AU$1691), and warned that enforcing 996 hours “seriously violated the maximum overtime work hours regulated by Chinese law”.

In another example, one company forced workers to sign agreements to give up overtime pay and in another example, one media staffer passed out at 5:30am at the office before dying of heart failure.

China’s largest tech giants have increasingly been subjected to strong criticism of their workplace culture and schedules, triggered when a female employee of e-commerce company Pinduoduo collapsed and died after working until midnight earlier this year. Another employee at the company died by suicide.

If you need mental health support, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or chat online at

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