Jack Ma Again Endorses Extreme Overtime as Furor Rages On

Jack Ma praised his staff. Credit PA

Jack Ma praised his staff. Credit PA

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.

This month, activists on Microsoft's GitHub Inc., the online code repository site, launched a project titled "996.ICU" where tech workers listed Alibaba among the companies ranked as having some of the worst working conditions. "Not only is it inhumane, it's unhealthy and even more unsustainable for long periods - plus workers, relatives and the law do not approve of it", he said.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ma's comments were met with a backlash online, where many commentators argued that overtime hours are a huge blessing for employers only.

Several Twitter users have also bashed Ma for his comments, calling him "exploitative" and an "insane VILE pig" for his attitude towards work culture. "We work 996 because we're exploited without overtime compensation".

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In a message to employees last week, Ma said that many workers lack the opportunity to put in extra hours at work, so those with the option should take full advantage of it.

On Sunday, Ma attempted to clarify his remarks, noting that 996 work hours are "unsustainable" but also seeming to preach a mind-set akin to the old chestnut of, "If you love what you'll do, you'll never work a day in your life". "Do you think you would feel proud if you don't experience 996 in a lifetime?" "But if you don't pay more effort and time than others, how can you achieve the success you want?"

"If you find a job you like, the 996 problem does not exist; if you're not passionate about it, every minute of going to work is a torment", he added.

"The bosses do 996 because they're working for themselves and their wealth is growing", another comment read.

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Ma's comments come amid a fierce debate.

Ma said he expected to be criticised for his views but he felt it was necessary to talk about the issue.

The ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece also stepped into the debate later on Sunday, with a commentary in People's Daily saying those who questioned 996 should not be "labelled". "Just not for his employees", one contributor wrote on Reddit.

Of the 168 hours in a week, Alibaba employees are expected to spend at least 72 of them while in work.

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Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

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