Microsoft employees have published a letter on the software development platform Github in solidarity with tech workers in China.
Workers at tech companies in the country have used the Microsoft-owned platform to complain about grueling working conditions and the “996” standard in the industry, a philosophy endorsed by the tech billionaire Jack Ma. The name is based on the idea of working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week.
Microsoft workers called on Chinese tech companies to comply with local labor laws, which limit their workers to 40 hours a week, with a maximum of 36 hours per month of overtime.
“These same issues permeate across full time and contingent jobs at Microsoft and the industry as a whole,” the workers said.
The repository hosting the material is called 996.icu, a reference to a comment from one poster that said such a schedule could land workers in the intensive care unit. Users created a list of more than 150 companies they said have inhumane working conditions, including Huawei, Bytedance (makers of the app TikTok), and Ant Financial (associated with Alibaba). It quickly became one of the fastest-growing GitHub repositories in the service’s history, being starred more than 200,000 times.
As the repository has gained traction, Tencent and Alibaba, both mentioned in the list, have restricted access to the material on their browsers. In their letter, Microsoft workers called on Microsoft and Github to keep the forum “uncensored and available to everyone”.
“History tells us that multinational companies will pit workers against each other in a race to the bottom as they outsource jobs and take advantage of weak labor standards in the pursuit of profit,” the letter said. “We have to come together across national boundaries to ensure just working conditions for everyone around the globe.”
The letter initially had 30 signatures, and workers behind it called on fellow employees to contact them to add names. The move is the latest internal tech protest. In February, Microsoft workers released a petition opposing a $480m contract to provide the US army with augmented reality headsets in a letter signed by more than 50 employees.
In November 2018, Google employees walked off the job over reports that a former executive who had been ousted for sexual harassment had received a $90m severance package. Workers involved in organizing that protest have reported internal backlash and demotions for their actions.