China’s highest court has issued an unprecedented ruling in which it lambasted the so-called “9-9-6” work culture and the “excessive” and “extreme overtime work” associated with it – which has been lauded as a great asset and a “blessing” for business by Jack Ma, the most internationally famous Chinese billionaire.

The “996 work” concept refers to working roughly 72 hours a week: 12 hours a day, from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week, Monday through Saturday, with only Sunday as a day off.

The Supreme People’s Court of China strongly condemned the practice, ripping businesses for overworking their employees.

Shocking cases underscore right to ‘rest and vacation’

In a statement that it issued jointly with China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the supreme court emphasized the case of a delivery company forcing a worker to work 9-9-6 – and for firing him when he declined to do that.

The court ruled that the company give the worker compensation of 8,000 yuan, app. $1,236.

It warned that the 996 rule constitutes a serious violation of even the maximum overtime work allowed under Chinese legislation.

The court statement also mentioned other cases of 996 work excesses.

In one case, a company forced its workers to sign agreements that they give up overtime pay.

In maybe the most shocking of the cases referenced, a media staffer fainted at the office at 5:30 am, and then died of heart failure.

Back in January, two employees of Pinduoduo, an e-commerce company, died, one of them committing suicide – and their deaths have been linked to overworking.

The labor legislation of the People’s Republic of China stipulates that normal work time must be limited to eight hours per day.

The Chinese supreme court, however, emphasized the fact that certain sectors have “extreme overtime work, which has focused public attention.

It told companies to respect the rights of workers to “rest and vacation.”

The court also felt the need to remind that adherence to the “national working hour system” constitutes “the legal obligation of employers.”

‘Huge blessing’ vs. government crackdown on corporations

Billionaire Jack Ma back in 2019 published a blog post on the Chinese social media platform Weibo stating that the 996 work culture system is “not a problem” as long as workers enjoy the role they have.

He described 996 as a “huge blessing”, and warned that those workers who don’t work that insane amount of hours would not “taste the happiness and rewards of hard work”.

In its scathing statement, however, the Chinese supreme court declared that while “advocating hard work” is okay, that “cannot be a shield for employers” to avoid their legal responsibility not to overwork their employees.

The 996 culture is most prevalent in China’s big tech companies and tech startups, and the judicial criticism of 996 comes amid a major Chinese government crackdown on private enterprises, with new fines and regulations curbing the power of influential corporations.

China’s President Xi Jinping and other top officials have justified the crackdown as a measure to boost data security and to reduce educational inequality and social instability.