Some tech workers bemoan pay loss amid China’s crackdown on overtime work

Photo: Nate Landy / Unsplash.com

The Chinese government’s campaign to improve conditions for workers has spurred companies, particularly some of its hardest-driving tech giants, to cut down on long hours of compulsory overtime but not all employees are happy about it.

Some employees at TikTok-owner ByteDance were shocked to find their August paychecks slashed 17% after the company ended its policy of requiring its China-based staff to work a six-day week every second week.

“My workload hasn’t actually changed,” a product manager at ByteDance told Reuters, declining to be identified given the sensitivity of the topic. “But unfortunately the salary is lower.”

For the past decade, Chinese tech firms were known for “996”, a gruelling business culture that usually means work hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week. But 996 was also seen as a badge of honour and was hailed as a competitive advantage over US and European rivals.

It was also a guarantee of high pay as Chinese law stipulates that employees are entitled to double pay for working overtime on weekends and triple pay for public holidays.

ByteDance declined to comment on the pay cuts which were widely discussed on social media. A separate company source said staff can still be paid overtime on weekends if they need to meet deadlines, adding that some employees in its gaming unit had done so recently.

Some workers in the tech sector began pushing back against 996 about two years ago – a movement that has gathered support from authorities keen to promoting socialist values and workers rights as they push through with wide-ranging regulatory reforms. China’s top court last month described 996 as illegal.

Other tech companies such as short-video platform Kuaishou and food-delivery giant Meituan have also cut compulsory weekend overtime recently.

In another boon for workers rights, ride-hailing giant Didi Global and e-commerce powerhouse JD.com have set up government-backed unions a groundbreaking development in the tech sector where organised labour has to date been very rare.

Authorities are also working to mandate more breaks for workers, especially in the food delivery sector where companies have been accused of pushing drivers to make tight deadlines at the expense of safety.

Meituan has said it will introduce such breaks. The southern city of Xiamen has also requested that companies implement a “20-minute break for every four hours of work” for delivery workers, the state-run People’s Daily said this week.

Concerns remain though about unintended consequences.

“Won’t this restrict their earnings?” said one user on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, citing how these drivers are paid per order. “This will cause more problems, won’t they drive even faster to deliver?” said another.

Reduced pay could also spell trouble for staff retention and the topic of whether companies should be raising salaries to compensate workers for their loss of overtime became one of the most viewed on Weibo this week, with over 120 million views.

“After receiving my paycheck this month, I want to know – are there other companies that still practice 996 in Shanghai?” posted a ByteDance employee.

Reuters

Singapore Reporter/s

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Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

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  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.