Workaholic Shenzhen city makes leave time mandatory in first for China

SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - The southern Chinese technology hub of Shenzhen, notorious for its long work hours, will become China’s first city to require that workers take paid leave, a move to help reduce burnout that may be replicated in other parts of the country.

FILE PHOTO: Zhang Shuangjie, an IT engineer at BaishanCloud, drops the curtain as he prepares to sleep around midnight in an individual sleeping quarter, in the office, in Beijing, China, April 26, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

From next year, employers must “strictly implement” paid leave, so that those “with a heavy mental and physical workload can avoid excessive burnout,” according to regulations approved in October and recently explained by the city’s work committee, the government-backed Shenzhen News reported on Tuesday.

Paid leave varies but usually employees get five days off after one year of working. While the leave is written into China’s labour laws, enforcement is often lax and ignored by employers.

Hours are gruelling in the Chinese tech sector, where “996” culture, which refers to working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week, is often celebrated.

Alibaba Group Holding's 9988.HK boss Jack Ma faced a backlash last year after writing a blog post praising 996 culture as a "huge blessing". He later made a public U-turn.

In Shenzhen, home to tech giants including Huawei Technologies Co [HWT.UL], Tencent Holdings 0700.HK, SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd, 996 culture is prevalent.

The Shenzhen government said in June that upcoming health regulation reforms would set an example for the rest of China.

The document did not specify how many days of paid leave would be enforced under the rule which applies to “staff”, with the status of contractors less clear. In addition to paid leave, employees get time off during the Lunar New Year and National holiday weeks in October.

Several Shenzhen tech workers welcomed the rules, but remained doubtful they could be enforced.

“In many cases, I’m working overtime because there are too many things to do,” said Wen, who is currently employed by a handset maker and used to work at Tencent. “It can be said to some extent I ‘voluntarily’ work overtime.”

Last month, President Xi Jinping visited to mark the 40th anniversary of the city’s Special Economic Zone and Shenzhen was granted greater autonomy to pilot market reforms.

Reporting by David Kirton; Editing by Tony Munroe and Jacqueline Wong