Former finance minister Lou Jiwei has spoken out against the controversial “996” work culture in China. China’s “996” work culture – shifts from 9am to 9pm, six days a week – has hurt employment and employees in China, former finance minister Lou Jiwei warned while calling for stronger regulation of the corporate sector. Lou’s criticism of 996 came just hours before China’s top court and the labour ministry issued a warning on Thursday about labour law violations, with the Supreme People’s Court ruling that common but controversial 996 schedules are illegal. The ruling was the outcome of authorities investigating the overworking of employees in many Chinese companies, especially internet and tech giants, in the wake of public outrage and regulatory crackdowns on the tech sector.
While many Chinese internet companies saw the 996 arrangement as a “gift” to employees, it clearly violated the country’s labour law and ruined work-life balance, Lou said during the online ESG Global Leader Summit organised by Sina Finance. ESG, which stands for “environmental, social and governance”, has become a buzzword in the Chinese business community, as emphasis is increasingly placed on fulfilling social responsibilities. “If there is no proper regulation, everyone will adopt 996, which will reduce jobs and be harmful to society,” he said.
In 2019, Alibaba founder Jack Ma was one of 996’s staunchest supporters, saying such a schedule helped Chinese tech giants like Alibaba and Tencent grow to become what they are today. Later, he said that companies looking to profit by forcing staff to work overtime were “foolish” and doomed to fail.