Behind China’s 996 Overwork Culture: Shentong Express Fires Employee who Refuses to Work Overtime

On Jan. 7, another overwork dispute case went viral on Chinese social media. China’s delivery company Shentong Express, the first major express parcel service to be publicly listed, was reported to have fired an employee who refused to work after 9 p.m.

Graduated from college in 2020, Xiao Jiang joined Shentong Express on July. 2 and was dismissed on Sept. 9 due to his “work attitude.” According to Xiao Jiang, under normal circumstances, Shentong employees are allowed to leave work at 6 p.m. However, the company’s deputy director often asked his subordinates to leave work after 9 p.m. and said this rule was responsible for their personal growth.

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(Source: Capital Watch)

Facing severe criticism online, Shentong Express responded to the local media, saying, “We ask our employees to start working at 9 a.m. and leave work at 6 p.m. and there is no enforced overtime rule. We dismissed Xiao Jiang because he did not meet our career expectations set by his deputy director. The firm actually extent his probation period, hoping to see his improvement, but his situation has barely evolved.”

However, Xiao Jiang revealed a recording detailing a deputy director’s positive view on overtime. “You are only 22-years-old. Don’t rush to use this precious time to be in a relationship. You will thank me in the future for asking you to leave work at 9 p.m,” said a Shentong Express deputy director.

The grueling 996 work schedule, in which employees are expected to work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week — became a norm in many top Chinese companies in the past few years. Alibaba’s former CEO Jack Ma was a vocal proponent of the “996” work schedule.

A recent graduate who asked to be identified by the pseudonym Zoe Lin told Pandaily that she thinks the 996 work schedule is cruel but she had to obey it due to peer pressure. “If everyone works overtime, I would do the same, or I may be forced out of the firm,” said Zoe.

According to a survey conducted by recruitment platform, over 80% of over 11,000 respondents stated they had worked overtime on a regular basis, in which 70% said such hours were unpaid.

SEE ALSO: Is 996 Truly a Blessing? Let’s Hear What Richard Liu and Jack Ma Have to Say

The overtime culture in China’s top tech firms has repeatedly made headlines in recent years. In 2019, a Chinese GitHub user shared a webpage he had created to protest against the 996 work schedule. The webpage claims that according to the Labor Law (in English), employees who follow the 996 schedule should be paid 2.275 times more than their base salaries.

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The Shanghai Qingpu District Arbitration Commission ruled that Shentong Express constituted an illegal termination of the labor contract and ordered it to pay compensation in accordance with the law. Then Shentong Express filed an appeal, and the case is currently awaiting further trial.

STO Express is one of several companies that works with Alibaba’s logistics firm Cainiao. In 2019, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd took a 14% stake in STO Express Co Ltd through a $693 million deal.