Employees at Microsoft have launched a petition calling on the company to stand behind Chinese tech workers who have launched a Github repository called 996.ICU, a reference to a "996" work schedule—9 am to 9 pm, six days a week—and the likelihood that you'll eventually end up in the intensive care unit because of it. The initiative calls on companies in China "to respect the legitimate rights and interests of their employees," and provides links and resources to workers trying to cope.
But some companies on the 996 list, including Tencent—the world's largest gaming company, which owns League of Legends developer Riot Games and has stakes in other companies including Epic Games, Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, and Paradox—have responded not by improving working conditions but by restricting access to the repository, according to a report by the Guardian. That's sparked fears that Github itself could block it, which is where the petition comes into play: Microsoft owns Github, so it has the final say over whether or not the repository will remain accessible.
"Since going viral, Chinese domestic browsers, such as those by Tencent and Alibaba, have restricted access to the 996.ICU repository on their web browsers, warning users that the repository contains illegal or malicious content. We must entertain the possibility that Microsoft and GitHub will be pressured to remove the repository as well," the petition says.
"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. 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. 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 potential access block is also a major issue from a more practical perspective: The browser restrictions are easy enough to get around, and according to The Verge, 996.ICU can only be blocked at the network level by blocking the entire site. That would be "catastrophic" for developers in China: Github "is the dominant platform for developers to collaborate and is a crucial part of Chinese tech companies' daily operations," the petition says. But that may also afford it some protection from the censor's pen.
Microsoft employees have previously called on the company to cease its development of weapons technology for the US military, and in June 2018 demanded that it end its work with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The 996.ICU petition has currently amassed 169 signatures.