Sorry, Jack Ma: 12-hour workdays are not a blessing

Jack Ma praised his staff. Credit PA

Jack Ma praised his staff. Credit PA

Jack Ma, founder of online marketplace Alibaba, defended the company's "996" work schedule - which expects employees to submit to 12-hour shifts between 9am and 9pm during a six-day week.

"As I expected, my comments internally a few days ago about the 996 schedule caused a debate and non-stop criticism", the billionaire executive said in a post on his Weibo account on Sunday.

China's tech industry is littered with tales of programmers and startup founders dying unexpectedly due to long hours and grueling stress.

Users within the community added to a blacklist of more than 150 companies that push their staff to work excessive hours and post evidence of unpaid overtime.

However former and current employees of companies included on the blacklist - including Bytedance, TikTok, Huawei and e-commerce platform Pinduoduo - say such laws are regularly disregarded. "We work 996 because we're exploited without overtime compensation".

Last month, activists on Microsoft's code-sharing site GitHub set up a discussion group called "996.ICU", suggesting that employees who work those hours could experience burnout and end up in an intensive care unit.

Users uploaded screenshots of conversations in which they were asked to work late in the evening. If you don't work 996 when you are young, when can you ever work 996?' In an editorial on Sunday the People's Daily said: "Employees who object to 996 can not be labelled as "slackers" or "not fighters".

The debate has spread across Chinese social media, where many users have criticized the tech industry's work culture as "inhumane". "Their real needs should be considered".

The 9-9-6 work schedule that's become synonymous for life at Chinese tech companies (working from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week) led to an eruption of dissatisfaction recently. If it breaks, they'll find a new screw to replace you.

But in a speech to Alibaba staff on Thursday, Ma said the company expected people to be ready to work 12 hours a day since it had huge commitments to its clients.

Ma's comments come after an opinion piece in Chinese state newspaper the People's Daily on Thursday argued on that 996 violate's the country's labor law.

"The people who stick to 996 must have found their passion there, and their happiness besides from money". "If you do not work longer than others to make more effort, how can you achieve the success you want", he questioned Alibaba employees.

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