996, Github, and China’s Digital Workers Rights Awakening


Tech workers of the world, unite!

In China’s tech sector a peculiar uprising has begun: workers are demanding to be treated fairly. Even more fascinating is that the medium by which this movement is taking shape is via a single Github repo, which at the time of writing has over 200,000 stars making it one of Github’s most popular repos of all time.

China’s tech sector is notorious for treating workers like machines, with extremely long working hours being the norm. The phrase 996 refers to 9am – 9pm, 6 days per week, and is an unspoken rule in a lot of Chinese tech companies. The CEO of Youzan, a large Chinese e-commerce company, seemingly didn’t get the memo about keeping 996 as an “unspoken” rule, and surprised his employees at their 2019 yearly company party by telling them Youzan is officially switching to 996.

Ironically, given that China is a communist country, workers’ rights movements and unions are extremely uncommon, so it’s refreshing to see tech workers using their collective power to push back against abusive employers. The 996 Github page maintains a blacklist of tech companies that use 996 working hours, and a whitelist of companies that have reasonable working hours, and encourages tech workers to quit their jobs if their employers insist on the abusive 996 work schedule. The repo also has an anti-996 software license which projects can use which bans the software from being used by a 996 company. The license appears to be a modified MIT license with the addition of clauses restricting use by companies violating standard labor laws. The 996 website also points out that the 996 work-week is illegal under Chinese law, despite being so commonplace.

At the time of writing, the 996 website isn’t blocked in China, but greedy tech companies have decided to block it themselves. Tencent’s Wechat refuses to open the site, as does Alibaba’s UC Browser and Qihoo’s 360 browser. It seems Chinese tech companies don’t want their employees getting the idea that they should be treated fairly. Given the popularity of the 996 repo, though, it seems that the word is getting out.

Tech workers of the world, unite!

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