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Shenzhen residents told to take time off to improve the city

Inkstone logo Inkstone 17/11/2020
a man sitting at a table using a laptop © Xinhua/Mao Siqian

Taking a day off in China can often be tricky. Peer pressure from colleagues and bosses often means workers stretch themselves to the breaking point, spending long hours in overtime or dragging themselves to work when they don't feel well.

Shenzhen, the southern megacity in China, is trying to change the work culture by forcing companies to respect their employees' mandated days off.

The guidelines are part of a larger plan to improve Shenzhen's living standards by fighting air pollution, improving food safety, and ensuring mental and physical health. The new ordinance will come into effect at the start of 2021.

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a group of people sitting around a car © Provided by Inkstone

Under the section titled "healthy profession," the rules stipulate that employers should adjust employee workload and arrange for "rest time" to avoid damaging employees' health.

"The employers should strictly enforce paid leaves. Human resources, unions and other departments should strengthen supervision on the enforcement of such mechanisms," it said.

While Chinese labor laws already mandate employee holidays, there is often a gap between law and enforcement.

In many workplaces, especially fast-paced tech companies, overtime work is so common that the "996" moniker - referring to the culture of working between 9am to 9pm, six days a week - has become a mainstream slang term.

If you don't finish your project on hand, your performance review will suffer, along with your salary
Zoey Zou, a designer who is dubious about the impact of new rules

It remains to be seen if the new rule will help curb the "996 culture." In a commentary last week, China's state broadcaster CCTV said the key to enforcing forced leave is to have policy guidance and support mechanisms.

Otherwise, employers can use salary, work arrangement or performance evaluation to disincentivize employees from taking the days off.

Zoey Zou, a Shenzhen-based designer, said the new rule is useless, especially for companies whose work is project-based. She said she would wind up working overtime to deal with accumulated work if she was forced to take a day off.

"If you don't finish your project on hand, your performance review will suffer, along with your salary," she told Inkstone. "The company also needs to take on more projects in order to make money to survive, so it will keep accepting clients and projects, and the workers will keep working overtime."

Jack Ma wearing a suit and tie © Provided by Inkstone

Workers have complained that long hours for prolonged periods made them ill and that they were destined to "end up in intensive care."

But China's tech moguls, including Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, which owns Inkstone, defended the 996 culture. He called it, "a huge blessing that many companies and employees do not have the opportunity to have."

He said the 996 culture helped Alibaba and its rival Tencent grow to become the dominant forces they are today.

"If you do not do 996 when you are young, when will you? Do you think never having to work 996 in your life is an honor to boast about?" he said.

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