Claims that overwork killed China tech worker reignites ‘996’ debate – The Guardian

A hashtag relating to the death of man employed at video platform Bilibili has been viewed hundreds of millions of times but company denies claims he was overworked
Last modified on Wed 9 Feb 2022 04.11 GMT
Claims that another Chinese tech worker has died after excessive overtime has reignited debate over the industry’s “996 culture”. The company denied that it overworked the employee, but said it would pay more attention to the health of its employees.
The 25-year-old reportedly died in hospital soon after he was taken to hospital from his home on Saturday afternoon. The video platform Bilibili, where the man was employed as a content auditor, said company representatives went to the hospital to assist and then notified his family.

Bilibili released an internal memo rejecting claims the employee – who reportedly died of a brain haemorrhage – was overworked. It said the man had worked from 9.30am to 6.30pm for the past week, with no overtime.
But reports of his death by a workplace blogger on Monday renewed heated discussion about a toxic overtime culture dubbed “996” – referring to an expectation that employees, especially in the tech industry, work from 9am to 9pm six days a week. The expectation has in the past been promoted by high-profile figures including the Alibaba founder, Jack Ma.
A hashtag related to the man’s death and including the allegation of overwork trended on Weibo, receiving hundreds of millions of views, including accusations the government had not done enough to address the problems in the year since a spate of high-profile deaths linked to overwork in 2020.
“Don’t work hard regardless of the cost. There will be no impact on the company without you. But if you are gone, your mother will have nothing,” one Weibo user commented.
“The main reason is the government has been ignoring this. It is quite normal for big companies employees to work for 12 hours,” another said.
It also prompted posts by people who said they worked for the company claiming they had worked 12-hour overnight shifts across last week’s lunar new year holiday. Others claimed they found it difficult to claim back accumulated leave before it expired.
“At Bilibili, even if you have annual days off, they wouldn’t really let you go. And there is no pay for overwork,” said one. Another added: “Our work intensity is like this: if you work the night shift, it is from 9pm to 9am. Bilibili requires us to work during the spring festival. A lot of people have left.”
Bilibili’s statement had urged people to pay attention to their health, and use paid sick leave or communicate with supervisors if they felt unwell. It said it had established a company team to cooperate with police inquiries and to assist the family. Following extensive online discussion, Bilibili released a second statement, saying its senior executives had consulted with the man’s family and would make company changes.
“First, the company will make the greatest efforts to expand the recruitment of auditors, and recruit 1,000 more people this year. Second, the company will pay more attention to the physical health of employees,” it said, listing increased physical examinations and the establishment of an onsite mental and physical health clinic.
Additional reporting by Xiaoqian Zhu.

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