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    Chinese Boss’ Call to Work Weekends Sparks Discussion on Overtime

    An automobile executive’s remarks have once again highlighted long hours at some companies, even though they’re illegal.
    Mar 10, 2023#labor

    Comments made by a senior executive at a state-run automobile manufacturing company on working weekends has once again triggered discussions on the overtime culture at some Chinese companies, as a growing number of young people are turning away from such jobs in pursuit of a better work-life balance.

    Gao Xinhua, executive vice president of Chery Automobile, said that “Saturday should be a regular working day” and that the company’s legal department should “think about how to avoid legal risks” associated with it, domestic media reported, citing screenshots of an internal company email shared on social media Tuesday. The following day, an audio recording that claimed to be from Gao was also shared online, where he is heard justifying his comments.

    Gao acknowledged to domestic media that he had sent the leaked email, further saying that working on Saturdays “isn’t exploitation.” Sixth Tone’s email to Chery Automobile went unanswered as of Friday.

    Overwork culture, particularly in the country’s tech industry, has made headlines in recent years following multiple deaths that have been attributed to strenuous working hours. However, such schedules are still prevalent despite China’s top court deeming the practice, often referred to as “996,” or working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week, illegal in 2021.

    According to a 2022 survey released by recruitment platform 51Job, over 90% of an unspecified number of respondents said they need to work overtime, and of them about 60% had to put in more than one hour of additional work daily on average. This exceeds the time limit listed in the country’s labor law, which stipulates that overtime shall not exceed an hour a day, or three hours daily under special circumstances.

    During the ongoing “two sessions” political meetings this year, Jiang Shengnan, a member of China’s top advisory body, also proposed a comprehensive and feasible work system. She urged for a regulation securing an eight-hour workday, which is included in the labor law but loosely implemented by some companies.

    “Human beings are not machines,” Jiang told domestic media. “Hard work and better sleep should bring a better life.”

    Such grueling work conditions are making many young people turn away from jobs and companies that promote overtime culture. A survey released last June showed that more fresh graduates preferred lower salaries that offered a better work-life balance, while many recruiters have confirmed that employees have recently tended to prioritize a smaller workload when job hunting.

    Many employees who have quit their high-paying jobs are also sharing anecdotes on social media, describing their emotions after resigning. Some users on lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu said they left their tech jobs to become pet groomers, shelf stackers, fast food sellers, and cashiers, among others.

    A 25-year-old man surnamed Chen, who only gave his surname due to the non-disclosure clause in his contract, is one of them. After two years working for a new media company, he quit his job in the central city of Changsha last June and has since been “lying flat” in his hometown Chongqing in the southwest.

    “When I was still in that company, many people envied me,” Chen told Sixth Tone. “I was the example to follow for younger students. I gave up my break time for those pointless expectations.”

    Just like Chery Automobile, Chen said his former company also often requested staff to work overtime, and he considered catching the last subway home around 11 p.m. as an achievement. Now, though Chen is unemployed, he said his days are more relaxed, and doesn’t mind joining the gig economy as a delivery driver.

    “What’s the point of life when you’re staring nonstop at screens and files that have nothing to do with your own life?” Chen said. “I could forget important personal events but I couldn’t forget the project launch day. To fill the emptiness inside, I kept eating. I ate so much that I eventually got bulimia. Then I told myself, ‘Hey, you deserve a vacation.’”

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: VCG)