- The name of the project is a reference to the idea that many tech workers work 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week, even though such practices are illegal in China.
- Employees decided to publish this letter because they were concerned that Microsoft is facing pressure to take down this project.
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A group of Microsoft employees are speaking out to support an online protest in China over grueling, 12-hour workdays that organizers say are unhealthy, illegal and increasingly common.
About 20 Microsoft employees signed an open letter published on Monday in support of the so-called 996.ICU project in China.
Tech workers in China started the 996.ICU project in March on code-sharing website GitHub, which is owned by Microsoft.The numbers 996 refer to the concept of working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.
Such hours, the workers say, are illegal in China even though they say many employers in the country expect it of their workers. The name 996.ICU refers to an ironic saying among Chinese workers: " 996, ICU" or "Work by '996', sick in ICU," as in the intensive care unit of a hospital.
The 996.ICU project is a repository of what is allegedly evidence of these working conditions, as well as a new software license designed to advocate for workers' rights. More specifically, any software project created under the terms of this license cannot be used by companies that break labor laws, per the language contained therein.
Monday's letter was signed by 50 tech employees altogether, including several from Google, urging Microsoft and GitHub not to remove the 996.ICU project from the GitHub site. Already, Chinese browsers from Tencent, Alibaba, and others have restricted or blocked access to the 996.ICU project, the Microsoft employees' letter said.
"We, the workers of Microsoft and GitHub , support the 996.ICU movement and stand in solidarity with tech workers in China. We know this is a problem that crosses national borders. These same issues permeate across full time and contingent jobs at Microsoft and the industry as a whole," the letter said.
The 996 schedule has become a controversial topic. Jack Ma, the cofounder of Alibaba, recently described the 996 schedule last week as a "blessing" for young workers, according to Reuters.
A Microsoft employee who wished to remain anonymous told Business Insider that employees started this petition because they were concerned that Microsoft may be facing pressure to censor the project, in the wake of the alleged moves from Tencent and Alibaba.
"We must entertain the possibility that Microsoft and GitHub will be pressured to remove the repository as well," the letter said.
Developers outside China have supported this project as well. In less than a month, this project has garnered over 2,500 contributions from 533 developers. The project has also been starred nearly 230,000 times a way for GitHub users to show their support or interest for a project.
Standing in solidarity
Pooya Parsa, an open source developer from Iran, helped translate the project to Persian. He said a "996" schedule is not common in Iran, but he has previously had experiences with overworking.
"I used to work on such schedule for 1 to 2 years which made serious health problems to me and stopping to pay attention to other daily living matters like family, body health and even improving programming skills," Parsa told Business Insider. "Forcing or even allowing developers to work on such schedule may help short-term success but it finally takes creativity, innovation, and motivation from them."
With this letter, employees hope to make a larger statement on labor standards around the world.
"Another reason we must take a stand in solidarity with Chinese workers is that 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. We have to come together across national boundaries to ensure just working conditions for everyone around the globe," the letter said.
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