China’s short-video company Kuaishou has formally cancelled its weekend overtime policy, while its competitor, TikTok’s parent ByteDance, is debating internally whether to do the same.
The move by Kuaishou, which raised $5.4bn in a public listing earlier this year, comes as China’s tech sector grapples with employees’ complaints of overwork and mistreatment. In January, the news of two deaths at ecommerce giant Pinduoduo further stirred nationwide debate over the notorious “996” schedule of working 9am-9pm six days a week.
Kuaishou and ByteDance had previously embraced the practice common to many Chinese tech giants, known as “big/small weeks”, meaning that staff work one Sunday every alternate weekend. After half a year of doing so, Kuaishou announced it would end the practice as of this week.
Beijing’s regulatory tightening against Big Tech could be a reason behind the change, said Shan Guo, Shanghai-based analyst at consultancy Plenum.ai.
“After President Xi called to ‘prevent disorderly expansion of capital’ last year and ‘strengthen protection of workers’ in April, it would be difficult for policymakers to keep a blind eye to tech giants’ labour practices, since the overtime policy benefits capital-owners more than workers,” she [Guo] said.
Staff at ByteDance and Kuaishou also speculated that their companies were motivated by cutting the high cost of overtime pay.
“We encourage staff to strike a balance between work and rest, and spend more time with your family and friends,” wrote Kuaishou in an internal note to staff reported by domestic media last week, adding that overtime could still be requested when needed. Kuaishou confirmed the policy change.
Some Kuaishou staff rejoiced at having their weekends back. “Goodbye, big/small weeks!” posted one employee on professional networking platform Maimai, sharing a screenshot of her alarm set to weekdays only.
But many others questioned whether the move was anything more than cosmetic, saying that they expected their teams would demand they “voluntarily” continue working on weekends.
If staff do in fact get their weekends back, the move means a significant reduction of income expenditures for Kuaishou. Chinese labour law states that weekend overtime must be paid at double the normal rate.
As a result, under the big/small week policy, staff are paid around 20 per cent more, a bonus that some young professionals would rather keep.
Kuaishou’s move stirred the expectations of staff at its competitor ByteDance that they would soon follow suit, with domestic media reporting internal discussions that weekend working would be ended in July. ByteDance said it did not comment on market rumours.
At a company-wide meeting last month, ByteDance’s incoming chief executive Liang Rubo announced that the company had been reconsidering its big/small week working policy, which it has implemented for many years. However, Liang added, a survey of staff found one-third supported continuing the policy, while one-third were against.
“There’s a lot of pressure to address it, but they haven’t necessarily decided on the best step forward,” said one employee. Another added that opinions were divided among the management and different staff teams.
“Some don’t want to lose the pay. Some fear that if [weekend working] is cancelled but the workload doesn’t change, then they’ll end up losing out,” said an employee.
Additional reporting by Nian Liu and Qianer Liu