The death of an e-commerce employee in western China has caused an outcry about lengthy working hours at the country’s tech giants – with state media joining the call.
On December 29 a 22-year-old woman surnamed Zhang, working at the Xinjiang branch of fresh-produce e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, collapsed while walking home from the office with colleagues. She died later in hospital.
Citizens flooded social media with messages of sympathy for the woman, and slammed China’s “996” culture, which encourages employees to work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week.
“The death of such a young employee hurts me,” wrote Lijia Zhang in the South China Morning Post yesterday. “Throughout the 1980s, I was also an employee. Luckily, I worked in a state-owned factory where the workload was never intense and overtime was always paid for. In those days, workers were hailed as the “masters of the nation”. Why have these “masters” become slaves to work?”
In a reflection of top-level concerns within the Chinese Communist Party’s politburo, state news agency Xinhua joined the chorus of dissent, calling long overtime hours at workers’ expense “illegal.”
“When I was working at Pinduoduo, I started working at 11am and usually finished at 11p. or 12pm, six days a week,” an employee who gave his surname as Wang told Xinhua.
It is not just Shanghai-based Pinduoduo that has come under the spotlight. A video has recently circulated of a driver for e-commerce brand Ele.me, part of the Alibaba Group, setting himself on fire to protest unpaid wages.
China’s state authorities have declared their intent to crack down on issues of antitrust and employee health at the nation’s leading tech companies, whose operations have accelerated to underpin China’s consumer economy during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the crisis, Chinese consumers spent 16% more on e-commerce in 2020 than they did the previous year.