"Voluntary" overtime in the workplace has become the norm, and the physical and mental health of workers has been damaged

How to solve the phenomenon of uncontrolled and long overtime?

□ Wen Lijuan, reporter of this newspaper

The average overtime per week is nearly 15 hours – a work experience of Mr. Deng, a foreign company employee in Beijing, which is even longer if you add overtime at home on weekdays.

"On weekdays, the lights in the office are mostly on before 12 o'clock at night, because there are people working all the time, and colleagues rush to the unit on weekends to work overtime." Mr. Deng said.

There are many overtime workers like Mr. Deng. The reporter of "Rule of Law Daily" interviewed more than 30 workers in Beijing, Hunan, Guangdong and other places for several days and found that nearly ninety percent of workers need to work overtime to a greater or lesser extent, and nearly 1% of workers work more than one hour of overtime per day on average; And half of the workers do not receive any form of compensation after overtime, such as overtime pay, leave, etc.

The operation of the national economy in the first quarter of 2023 recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics also shows that in March this year, the average weekly working hours of enterprise employees nationwide were 3.48 hours, an increase of 7.3 hours compared with 47.3 hours in March last year.

A number of industry experts interviewed by reporters pointed out that uncontrolled overtime is closely related to factors such as enterprise management concepts, work process settings, and working atmosphere, seriously violating labor laws and infringing on workers' right to rest and health, and suggested that the compliance with labor laws and regulations be included in the evaluation system for the construction of a society under the rule of law, forcing enterprises to abide by the law, while further improving the labor inspection mechanism and complaint and reporting mechanism, establishing a scientific identification system, and improving relevant legislation to protect the right to rest. Increase the punishment of enterprises for illegally extending the working hours of workers.

Overtime is extremely widespread, and overtime pay is not guaranteed

"Overtime is commonplace." Ms. Li, who works as a salesman at a shopping mall in Beijing, said that she and her colleagues usually take only one day off a week, and only on one day from Monday to Friday.

"The company's working hours are from 10 to 18 o'clock, but in reality it usually takes more than eight hours." Ms. Li said that although it is stipulated to leave work at 8 o'clock, there is often work that has not been finished at the end of the work time, and sometimes the leaders will occupy the off-duty time for temporary meetings, and after arriving home, they will receive feedback from customers from time to time, and they have to use the rest time to communicate and solve.

Mr. Zhao, who works in a public institution in Changsha, Hunan Province, also faces the problem of overtime. He works from 9 to 17 p.m., but in recent years he has hardly left work on time, sometimes working overtime until eleven or twelve p.m. to get home for work.

"Sometimes overtime is reduced to a formality, and even if the work is completed on time, I have to stay in the unit to work overtime because other colleagues are still working." Mr. Zhao complained.

"An hour or two late off work doesn't count as overtime." Mr. Zhang, who works in an Internet company in Guangdong, told reporters that since graduating from university, he has been working as a programmer with a good salary, but often staying up late and working overtime gives him a headache.

"The company does not have performance appraisals and takes a fixed salary. Every month, the company will arrange a task amount for each team, which must be completed in the month, otherwise the money will be deducted. If you want to complete the amount of tasks assigned by the company, you must work overtime and work overtime every day. Mr. Zhang said that sometimes group members have to take leave of absence when there is something at home, and several others have to take the top, and it is the norm to work overtime until the early hours of the morning and weekends.

The reporter's investigation found that many of the employees of enterprises who endure long working hours are "voluntary" to work overtime for free, and "overtime pay" is a luxury for them.

"On average, I work about 10 hours of overtime a week, all of which is 'voluntary' and there is no overtime pay." Mr. Zhao told reporters that although the department leader has never asked him to work overtime, in fact, the workload assigned by the leader is far from being completed during working hours, and he can only "take the initiative" to work overtime, and the unit naturally will not pay overtime to employees.

In Mr. Zhao's view, whether or not he takes the initiative to work overtime has become the standard for the unit to judge whether employees work hard, so even if he hates this kind of work rhythm, he has to endure it.

Since graduating from a university in Beijing in 2016, Ms. Liu has worked in four industries, from e-commerce, stock futures to copywriting and human resources, and there is no job that does not require overtime.

"The form of overtime for all four jobs is different, such as how many effective copywriting is required for employees to complete per week, and how many companies to connect with each month for human resources. These positions judge the results of work by high performance, which can hardly be completed within the company's planned working hours, so most overtime is 'voluntary' and it is impossible to receive overtime compensation. Ms. Liu said.

Unlike Mr. Zhao and Ms. Liu, Ms. Wang, who works in a private enterprise in Guangdong, told reporters that her initiative to work overtime was more forced by life.

"My basic salary is only more than 3000,<> yuan, if I want to get a higher salary, I have to work more, the company does not require overtime, but I have to work overtime." Ms. Wang said.

Data shows that it is more common for people like Ms. Wang to take the initiative to work overtime. According to the "Survey Report on the Status of Overtime in the Workplace 2022" released by Worry-Free Future, 11.1% of the interviewed workers said that they had received promotions and salary increases through diligent overtime.

The culture of overtime is miserable and physical and mental health is severely damaged

The workers interviewed generally believe that the growing overtime culture not only damages their labor rights, but also seriously harms their physical and mental health.

"Sometimes when I come home from overtime, it's already past 11 p.m., and I go to bed after 12 o'clock, and I only sleep for about 6 hours." Mr. Zhao said helplessly that frequent overtime also led to no time to participate in physical exercise, and his physical fitness deteriorated day by day.

Ms. Zhang, who works in a self-media company in Beijing, told reporters that due to the heavy work tasks, she often needs to work overtime to write copywriting, and the mental pressure is very high, and sleeping until she wakes up naturally is a "luxury" for her.

"In this line of work, there is a lot of work pressure, lack of exercise, many colleagues are not in good physical condition, almost all have occupational diseases." Ms. Zhang said that every time she saw the news of "death from overtime", she would feel scared and worried that such a thing would happen to her.

A previous survey report covering 1500,70 white-collar workers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou showed that more than 15% of overtime workers had 26 uncomfortable symptoms such as constipation, back pain, limb weakness, mental malaise, dizziness and headache. Only 57% of overtime white-collar workers eat three meals regularly, and more than 7% of overtime white-collar workers sleep less than <> hours.

"Long-term overtime will have many adverse effects on workers, such as causing employees to be physically exhausted, mentally stressed, and even causing various diseases; It will also affect employees' family life and social activities, resulting in a lack of social support and emotional care for employees; It is also not conducive to the improvement of employee work efficiency, easy to make employees lose enthusiasm for work, affect career development, consume work ability and creativity, etc. Pi Jianlong, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and director of Beijing Jintai Law Firm, has long been concerned about the protection of workers' rights and interests, and he believes that the problem of excessive overtime work by workers needs urgent attention.

"Article 3 of the Labor Law stipulates that workers have the right to rest and vacation; Article 36 stipulates that the State implements a working hour system in which the daily working hours of workers do not exceed eight hours and the average weekly working hours do not exceed 44 hours. Therefore, the form of compulsory overtime violates the right of workers to rest and to work during working hours in accordance with the law. Pi Jianlong said.

The determination of overtime is extremely complex and the relief force is relatively weak

In fact, in recent years, the relevant departments have continuously increased their efforts to rectify the problem of excessive overtime.

From the 2021 Supreme People's Court and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security jointly issued a typical case of excessive overtime, clarifying that the content of "working hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., working 6 days a week" seriously violated the provisions of the law on extending the upper limit of working hours, to the overtime rectification carried out by human resources and social security departments in Beijing, Shandong, Anhui and other places in March last year, the signal released is very clear: correct the current abnormal overtime culture and protect the legitimate rights and interests of workers.

But why is the culture of overtime still prevalent?

Pi Jianlong analyzed, on the one hand, the labor law and other relevant laws and regulations on overtime provisions are difficult to implement and supervise, some enterprises can still force workers to work overtime in a hidden way, at the same time, workers are in a weak position in labor relations, in the face of strong employers, most workers can only choose to accept overtime culture; On the other hand, a large number of enterprises lack the corresponding legal awareness, and there is still a cultural atmosphere of "taking pride in overtime", which is regarded as a manifestation of excellent qualities such as dedication, responsibility, initiative, and teamwork. Conversely, not working overtime is considered laziness, and these employees may be at risk of being eliminated.

Shen Jianfeng, dean of the Law School of the China Institute of Labour Relations, believes that the fact that workers do not refuse to work overtime or even require overtime can be attributed to a variety of factors, the most important reason is the unreasonable wage structure of some employers.

"The wage structure of many labor-intensive enterprises is often reflected in the basic salary is the statutory minimum wage, and the rest is all reflected in overtime wages. Without overtime, workers will receive only the minimum wage and will be able to make ends meet but not support their families. Shen Jianfeng said that when overtime pay is 1.5 times or twice the normal working hour wage, some workers may "expect" overtime; Social insurance contributions are made according to the base rather than the actual wages, which will also lead employers to tend to increase the number of people less and arrange more work, so overtime is universalized; In addition, the strict dismissal protection system makes it difficult to terminate workers, and enterprises often do not necessarily solve employment needs through recruiters during the peak production season, but arrange overtime.

The weakness of legal remedies is also one of the reasons. Shen Jianfeng believes that according to the provisions of the current law, in the adjudication of labor disputes, the burden of proof for overtime lies with the employee in principle, and many units may circumvent overtime without attendance and overtime approval system, resulting in employees unable to provide evidence and unable to claim overtime pay. From the perspective of administrative relief, the personnel, establishment and funding guarantees of many labor security inspectors are not in place, and the strength of labor security supervision is very weak compared with a large number of enterprises and illegal acts. Violations are more common when the cost of breaking the law is low or no cost.

"In fact, Chinese workers do not completely dislike or oppose overtime. Diligence itself is an important element in China's traditional culture, and the contemporary struggle culture of labor to create happiness will also promote the emergence of overtime. According to the data of China's Labor Statistics Yearbook, in recent years, the weekly working hours of urban workers in China have been about 46 hours. Many workers may object more to overtime without overtime pay. Shen Jianfeng said.

In recent years, Wang Enhui, a lawyer at Sichuan Weixu Law Firm, has handled a considerable number of labor dispute cases with overtime as a contradiction. In his view, the key to such disputes is the cashing of overtime pay, and if it can be cashed, most people will remain silent for the sake of "jobs".

Clarify the scope of the right to rest and increase the intensity of investigation and punishment of violations

The reporter interviewed more than 30 workers and found that there are still many blocking points in the current governance of overtime, such as unclear labor relations, and the boundary between negotiated overtime and compulsory overtime is not easy to define.

Mr. Zhou, who works as a takeaway worker in Beijing, said that although he would be reminded to take a break online for more than 10 hours a day, he still went out at 8 a.m. and went home at 10 p.m. in order to work more.

In this regard, Pi Jianlong believes that at present, many new industry employment groups have not established clear labor relations, working hours are not clearly defined, and the effect of special inspections is relatively weak, which is not conducive to protecting the health rights and interests of employees in new formats, labor rights and other legitimate rights and interests.

In interviews, many workers mentioned that they hope to improve their lives by working overtime to generate income. So, can you still work overtime after rectifying overtime? Shen Jianfeng believes that the law stipulates that overtime can be negotiated, and at the same time, it is illegal to work more than 36 hours of overtime per month; Enterprises cannot force or imply employees to work overtime, "mandatory overtime is a bottom-line problem, overtime income generation is an online problem, should be distinguished".

He pointed out that the rules of the current law that require the consent of workers and trade unions, overtime pay rules, overtime time limit rules, and the labor inspection system that guarantees the implementation of these rules can solve the problem of excessive overtime to a certain extent, and some problems have indeed been solved in practice, but the existing system alone is not enough to completely solve the problem of excessive overtime.

"Tackling overtime is a systems project in itself. First of all, it requires a change in social concepts, ordinary workers in China often do not refuse to work overtime, and the whole society also advocates the culture of struggle; Second, economic considerations need to be taken into account, and at a certain level of socio-economic development, it is more important for ordinary workers to earn more money than rest; Third, it is also necessary to improve the supporting system of the working hour system, such as the minimum wage system and the social insurance premium collection base system. In addition, the lack of labor security supervision to implement labor standards and the low cost of corporate violations are also leading to the proliferation of overtime, and the system needs to be adjusted. Shen Jianfeng said.

Pi Jianlong also suggested that the relevant legislation to protect the right to rest should be improved in a timely manner, such as further detailed and specific provisions on the connotation of the right to rest and the scope of the right to rest in the labor law, and at the same time stipulating the law enforcement authority and procedural means of the labor authorities, and clarifying the punishment methods for various illegal acts, and enriching the ways of bearing legal responsibility.

"Strengthen the enforcement and transparency of labor law enforcement and supervision departments, investigate and deal with illegal acts that infringe on workers' right to rest, focus on forced overtime and excessive overtime, and fully implement the legal obligation of employers to protect workers' right to rest." Pi Jianlong said that it is also necessary to strengthen legal education and publicity, improve workers' awareness of the importance of the right to rest and legal rights protection methods, and establish awareness of protecting the legitimate rights and interests of workers through publicity and education that employers take the initiative to understand the relevant laws and regulations on overtime.

He also proposed that in order to give better play to the role of trade union organizations, trade union organizations can restrain the unreasonable labor existing in enterprises, actively communicate and discuss with company leaders, and encourage employees to seek help from trade union organizations in a timely manner. (Source: Rule of Law Daily)