China tech worker’s death reignites industry overtime debate


The incident follows a spate of sudden deaths of young tech employees in recent years, which have sparked debate over the industry’s notorious “996” culture of working 12 hours per day, six days a week – previously endorsed by entrepreneurs including Alibaba founder Jack Ma. — AP

BEIJING: The sudden death of a young employee at a Chinese internet giant has reignited a debate about the gruelling culture of overtime work in China's tech industry, with the firm describing his passing as a “wake-up call”.

China’s Internet lit up this week over the brain haemorrhage death of a 25-year-old content moderator who had worked throughout a week-long public holiday for short-video streaming site Bilibili.

Bilibili confirmed the employee’s death in a statement late Tuesday and said they had apologised to his family.

“The death of this excellent worker is not only an enormous loss to the company, but has also served as a wake-up call to us,” Bilibili wrote, identifying the man only by his online username.

“We should make active improvements in checking up on the physical health of employees to prevent similar tragedies from happening again,” the statement added.

The incident follows a spate of sudden deaths of young tech employees in recent years, which have sparked debate over the industry’s notorious “996” culture of working 12 hours per day, six days a week – previously endorsed by entrepreneurs including Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

The hashtag “Bilibili worker suddenly died after working overtime during Lunar New Year” went viral on the Twitter-like Weibo platform on Monday when a workplace blogger reported the man’s death, citing anonymous colleagues claiming that he was forced to work overtime.

The same day, a Weibo user claiming to be the man’s sister wrote a long post thanking the blogger and alleging that Bilibili tried to suppress news of his death internally.

“Is it that hard to give a sincere apology? Does my brother’s twenty-something-year-old life not count?” she wrote, in a post that gained over 870,000 likes.

Some Weibo users claiming to be Bilibili employees accused the firm of forcing content moderators to work 12-hour shifts without breaks during the Spring Festival holiday.

The firm said the employee died of a brain haemorrhage Friday evening, having sought medical treatment after he did not show up to work that afternoon.

However, Bilibili denied overtime allegations, saying the employee “was assigned to work eight hours per day with two days off after five days of work, as part of the Spring Festival shift rota”.

Several Chinese tech firms have pledged to cut working hours after complaints and activism among employees, including a crowd-sourced spreadsheet of different firms’ working hours compiled last year which mysteriously got deleted.

Since last year, Beijing authorities have pushed to improve labour conditions for gig economy workers serving giant tech platforms, as part of a regulatory crackdown on the industry. – AFP

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Overtime , deaths , 996 culture

   

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