Chinese programmers use GitHub as a “battlefield” against harsh working conditions

Tram Ho

Many Chinese technology workers are actively fighting to oppose overly harsh working conditions, including the regulation of too long working hours, up to 10-12 hours a day, making them almost exhausted, and GitHub is the site chosen as the “uprising base”.

996.ICU repository

If you check out the list of trends on GitHub in recent days, it’s easy to come across an archive called 996.ICU, which is a reference archive that mentions the rules to do. work from 9 am to 9 pm every day, and so on for 6 days a week – a regulation of working time that many programmers in the world’s most populous country are following, while contributing to “helping” many of them hospitalized in intensive care because of exhaustion. Instead of containing the code as usual on GitHub, this archive contains a collection of grievances at work of China’s most famous and large technology companies, including Alibaba, Huawei, and Bytedance. , DJI and a number of other billion-dollar technology businesses.

Huawei

Previously, the repository was first posted by an anonymous developer on China’s famous social networking platform V2EX, saying that such a tense schedule made developers as he even “doesn’t have time to rest, let alone spending time with other family members”.

Because it is an open repository, anyone who encounters a situation similar to that unnamed programmer can contribute a “document” about the trouble they are facing. In order for the document to “accept suffering” to be accepted, the sender must clearly state the actual situation, and especially give evidence (usually in the form of posts on social networking sites or news. , but sometimes it also includes key evidence inside the company) of the problem I’m having.

The developer responsible for maintaining the repository warns users not to take screenshots directly of the company’s internal data to avoid identity detection, which can affect work or even is my safety. In addition, information contributors are encouraged not to give false information to the detriment of the business. If such information is discovered, they will be immediately removed and the poster “may be in trouble”. This archive has received a lot of attention from the community in recent days, resulting in versions being translated into English, Hindi, Spanish, Russian, Irish and Irish. Persian and many other languages ​​have also appeared.

Back to the problem of working time. Chinese developers say Huawei, one of the country’s largest IT businesses, has encouraged workers to voluntarily reduce their salaries, overtime pay and vacation time in exchange for money. The annual bonus is higher, this information is presented with the proof that an official article has been published since 2010. In addition, this article also mentions the case that an IT worker broke died on his desk in 2006 due to a debilitating physical condition, and the case of two other programmers committed suicide in 2008 due to “the work pressure was too great to be tolerated. ”. Since then, although the story is a bit vague about how, the wave of skepticism about Huawei “exploiting” its employees too much also aroused. Huawei declined to respond to press comments regarding this issue.

Programmer

An internet user named Liu Xuan later posted the incident on the world’s largest Chinese language inquiry website Zihu, and accompanied the question: “Is it in the eyes of some employers, hiring a Employees are like buying a machine – they wish we could work 24 hours a day, all week long and just allow us to “refuel” (eating)? ” A total of 465 users were sympathetic to Liu’s question.

When workers “are” treated like hard worker ants

Similarly, many developers have accused Alibaba of promoting a work culture where employees voluntarily work an extra 996 hours per year. According to an article in 2018, in fact, although Alibaba doesn’t really force its employees to work overtime, everyone is willing to do it in exchange for a better bonus in one. extremely competitive environment. “After seeing these horrific numbers from Alibaba’s overtime work culture, you’ll soon have to quit!”, Says a user named Wryly in the article “Workers here are really treated like ants ”, posted here as ants, are posted on the Github repository. Alibaba declined to comment on this story.

Alibaba

It is not clear who makes the decision to track complaints in GitHub, but the person who submits the complaint should definitely be kept anonymous. In fact, GitHub is an important resource for technology companies in the U.S. and China, providing access to loads of open source for developers to build their own projects. Therefore, any attempt to block this site can bring much more damage to the business than to employees. Remember in 2013, when GitHub was blocked in China for a few days, former Chinese Google CEO Kai-Fu Lee came out to criticize the government’s strict censorship policy: “Blocking GitHub is completely unreasonable, and will only make the problem become more out of control and at the same time cause significant damage in the competitiveness and development of businesses and programmers. ”

If the 996.ICU repository is taken down, users can easily create previous backups. “And even if GitHub is censored in some way, users can still switch to access services similar to GitLab,” said security researcher Victor Gevers, who works for the team. nonprofit organization GDI, and had previously discovered a number of confidential Chinese databases said. Of course, GitHub will not have to accept to comply with all requests from the Chinese government in exchange for not being blocked in the world’s most populous country.

Victor Gevers

“As we all know, Github is owned by Microsoft. Therefore, a little “complaint” from the Chinese government will be able to make this archive quickly disappear from Github because Microsoft will simply do everything to keep a good business relationship in the country. hey, the way they did it with the Bing search engine, ”Victor Gevers commented. After the departure of famous “compatriots” such as Google, Facebook and Youtube in China, Bing continues to operate in this market because they have accepted to comply with the request to censor content from the authorities. blame. GitHub has not yet commented on the comment.

The technology companies on the list are being watched closely

Chinese labor laws stipulate that employees will not have to work more than 8 hours a day and no more than 36 overtime hours per month. In addition, businesses must pay their employees 150% of the regular wage for an hour they work overtime, 200% of the regular wage for working on holidays, and 300% of the regular wage for working. on national holidays, such as the Chinese New Year. Many Chinese developers are alleging that the technology companies listed in the 996.ICU repository violated labor laws, because they rarely receive overtime pay as prescribed by law.

Exhausted work

Mary Gallagher, a professor of political science and director of the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan, says there are still gaps surrounding labor laws in the country, and holes. That gap has been exploited as well as exploited by many businesses. According to local regulations or by the employer itself, employees may be classified as part of the standard system included in China’s labor law, or may also be considered as workers working on a seasonal basis, or working during overtime working hours. “For example, local governments and employers can abuse the technology-based labor classification system by implicitly ordering ordinary employees to be senior managers. After that, these employees will have to work long hours without extra pay, while the company still does not violate labor laws, ”Professor Mary Gallagher explained.

In fact, workers in China are rarely protected by trade unions, so if they do, they will only play a very passive role in helping workers protect their rights. However, it must be said again that labor unions or people who fight for labor law face many difficulties in intervening to help workers, because most of the overtime work is usually done voluntarily, at least physically.

“If they don’t work overtime, they risk being fired.”

The high-tech industry in China is booming, resulting in tremendous stresses and stresses on the environment and working conditions, resulting in employees having to work many days each day, in a single The environment is extremely competitive and eliminates, “said Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch. Mr. Li also explained, “In the past, we received a number of complaints from employees at many major technology companies on this issue. However, it is difficult to provide them with supportive solutions, as the salaries of these employees are actually much higher than the minimum wage standards in China, and they are willing to take hours. Doing extra work gives your own advantage in a competitive environment. If a certain number of overtime hours is not reached, these employees are at high risk of being fired (in the labor contracts that many Chinese technology companies sign with their employees, there is often a rule that if employees do not reach their performance goals, they will be fired) ”.

"If they don't work overtime, they risk being fired."

Longer working hours in a stiflingly competitive environment are not a problem that only Chinese tech workers encounter, and they are not as harsh as some exaggerated stories of abuse factory workers in China as well as abroad suffer.

However, even after appealing to all work injustices and potential violations of Chinese labor laws, technology workers may still face other significant challenges. can change reality. Professor Gallagher pointed out the inadequacies in the rapid development of the Chinese economy in general and the information technology sector in particular, and the common issues when it comes to legal reform. that with the economic downturn, the government seems “uninterested” in appeasing workers. In addition, technology workers may be more difficult than production workers to maintain collective effort in rights-based protests. They seem to have only one viable option, which is to find another company with better compensation, a better working environment, or quitting their job. ”

IBM China

Indeed, there is a detailed list of companies that regulate working hours for their employees more appropriately, stored in the third-largest database of search trends on GitHub, called 955.WLB. Specifically, the companies on this list usually only stipulate working hours are from 9 am to 5 pm, 5 days a week so that employees can better balance between life and work, can include: to some famous names like WeWork, Google, Microsoft, Intel, IBM and HP – all with offices in China. Many of the companies listed in the 955.WLB archive are foreign businesses, but there are also a number of large Chinese technology companies on the list, including Douban ( a social media network like China’s Pinterest). 955.WLB can be seen as a stark contrast to 996.ICU, and is a “lifesaver” for programmers who are trying to escape the oppression and injustice they are facing. present in the current work environment.

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Source : Techtalk