Tech by VICE

Microsoft Employees Support Chinese Developers Fighting for Fair Labor Practices

Thirty employees at Microsoft and GitHub stood in solidarity with the Chinese tech labor protest 996.ICU.

by Sarah Emerson
Apr 22 2019, 9:19pm

Image: Flickr

A group of Microsoft and GitHub employees stood in solidarity with a Chinese tech labor movement called 996.ICU on Monday.

The name refers to “grueling and illegal” conditions that Chinese tech workers often endure—a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. workday, six days per week.

“By following the ‘996’ work schedule, you are risking yourself getting into the ICU (Intensive Care Unit),” the movement has said, noting that the schedule violates Chinese labor laws.

Thirty people who identified as employees of Microsoft and GitHub (which is owned by the former) posted their support to GitHub, where the 996.ICE project has largely organized in the past.

In an email, the group behind the post, Microsoft Workers 4 Good, told Motherboard that they created the statement after learning the movement is being censored in China.

“In response to these events, we, the workers of Microsoft and GitHub, support the 996.ICU movement and stand in solidarity with tech workers in China,” the post says. “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 project is one of GitHub’s fastest growing repositories, according to the post, and has been starred (or bookmarked) by users more than 200,000 times.

As Motherboard reported this month, the protest movement began on Chinese social media where tech workers anonymously shared stories about long working hours and incommensurate pay. Their dialogue moved to GitHub where workers hatched a plan to bake an anti-996 license into open source software; a way to force companies to respect labor laws.

That effort now exists as an expansive repository, part of which has been translated into 25 languages. Access to the hub has since been restricted by some Chinese browsers, such as those by Tencent and Alibaba, and members worry that Microsoft and GitHub may be forced to do the same.

“It makes sense that there would be pressure on Microsoft and GitHub to censor too,” a Microsoft Workers 4 Good member told Motherboard. "We hope to get institutional support Microsoft and GitHub as an outcome of this letter.”

Neither Microsoft nor GitHub responded to Motherboard’s request for comment.