ByteDance limits overtime in shift away from controversial '996' system

The TikTok owner is mandating a nine-hour workday after authorities urged companies to comply with national working hours

The ByteDance and TikTok logos displayed on a tablet and smartphone

ByteDance has forced its employees to end their working day by 7pm as Chinese authorities crackdown on the country's controversial 996 working hour system. 

The company, which owns social media platform TikTok, has told staff they should only work from 10am to 7pm and will need to seek permission at least one day in advance if they intend to stay outside of those hours, according to documents seen by Bloomberg.

Employees will be able to work overtime for no more than three hours on a weekday or eight hours on a weekend and will receive extra compensation of up to three times their salary for the hours worked.

ByteDance started to shift away from overtime work culture last August when it pivoted away from an overtime practice that gave employees one day off per week every two weeks, as reported by Global Times. Overtime work culture has been a fixture of Chinese internet startups, with many seeing it as a key reason for their rapid rise to success.

This is part of China’s 996 working hour system, where employees often labour from 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This has been at odds with the country's labour laws, which stipulate that a standard workday is eight hours long, with a maximum of 44 hours a week. 

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China’s top court and labour ministry published a joint statement in September detailing that workers have the right to corresponding compensation and rest times, and that complying with national working hours is necessary, as reported by the BBC. The authorities warned that further guidelines will be developed in the future in regard to labour disputes.

Until now, the government has taken a hands-off approach to enforcing the law. Alibaba founder Jack Ma has defended the 996 culture in the past, calling it “a blessing” and warning that without it, China’s economy was likely to lose vitality and impetus.

However, it has now come under renewed scrutiny this year after two workers at e-commerce platform Pinduoduo died weeks apart, one worker collapsing on the way home from work and another died by suicide. At another company, Ele.me, a Chinese courier set himself on fire in protest at over unpaid Alibaba wages.

In April 2019, Microsoft employees largely based in the US urged the tech giant to protect a statement on GitHub made by Chinese developers condemning the 996 work week. The statement said that overwork in the Chinese tech industry could be both a health hazard and a violation of Chinese labour law, with Microsoft employees saying that the post had been the target of censorship on some Chinese browsers.

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