The sudden death of workers in the Internet industry has caused widespread concern, experts believe

"Work to death" predicament urgently needs to be solved by labor law

  Our reporter Chen Lei

  On December 29 last year, a female employee of an e-commerce platform died suddenly after get off work.

Prior to this, a takeaway rider died suddenly while delivering an order, and an employee of a technology company died suddenly... Their successive sudden deaths caused widespread controversy in the society.

  How to treat the phenomenon of death by employment on the Internet?

Does "work to death" mean no solution?

In the Internet age, how to design labor laws for the new era?

Around these issues, reporters from the "Rule of Law Daily" and experts started a dialogue.


  Wang Tianyu, Deputy Director, Social Law Office, Institute of Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

  "Rules of Law Daily" reporter Chen Lei

Extreme pressure leads to tragedy

Sudden deaths of practitioners

  Reporter: According to our observation, "work to death" is becoming a problem that plagues practitioners in the Internet industry.

On December 29 last year, a female employee of an e-commerce platform died suddenly after get off work; on December 21 last year, a takeaway rider died suddenly during delivery.

After the incident, topics related to this quickly appeared on hot searches, causing widespread controversy in society.

  Wang Tianyu: Recently, there have been two tragedies of sudden deaths of Internet practitioners. One was the sudden death of a takeaway rider, and the other was a sudden death of a female employee of an e-commerce platform after working overtime until late at night.

The difference between the two is that the former does not have a labor relationship, and the latter has a labor relationship; the commonality is that both of them make a living through the Internet platform and can be said to be part of the Internet platform ecosystem.

  The "extreme pressure" of Internet platform companies is the direct cause of sudden death of workers.

In this ecosystem, the platform is in an absolute dominant position, monopolizing the power to formulate rules. Driven by fierce market competition and capital market pressure, they pursue efficiency and performance without limit, transform operating pressure into work intensity, and transfer it to Practitioners of the Internet platform ecosystem.

  Among them, the platform's method of "extreme pressure" for selling riders is to find the shortest time for order delivery through algorithms, and thus continuously reduce the rated delivery time of orders to achieve the "optimal efficiency" of the rider's delivery. Psychological and physical stress.

The platform’s "extreme pressure" on employees of the company is not so "precise", and it is generally simple overtime work.

If the widely controversial "996" work system in 2019 is the first collective "bottoming" by an Internet company for its employees, then the recent sudden death of a female employee of an e-commerce platform is an "extreme pressure" after the bottoming .

Under the ecosystem of "extreme pressure" by platform companies, the sudden death of riders and employees is a tragedy that the public can empathize with.

  Why can platform companies "extreme pressure" on system participants?

The almost unlimited power of Internet platform companies is the root cause of this phenomenon.

Today's development achievements of Internet companies cannot do without technological progress, talent dividends and a relatively loose institutional environment. The development of platform employment also has significant social value, especially the promotion of employment.

Regarding how to regulate the development of the employment of Internet platforms, the most heard sentence at the policy level before is "let the bullet fly a little longer".

  Nowadays, large platforms have built their own complete ecosystem. Platform companies have mastered the dominant power by virtue of their advantages in big data, algorithms, capital, etc. The riders and employees in the system can only obey.

We need to reflect on whether while enjoying the convenience of life brought by the platform's employment, has it also strengthened the platform's value orientation of "efficiency priority" and become a booster of its loose institutional environment.

Lack of restrictions on platform power

The legal system needs to be improved

  Reporter: Actually, cases of sudden death are not happening today.

In March 2015, the 36-year-old IT man Zhang died suddenly on the toilet of a hotel, and the last work email was sent at 1 am that day.

In June 2016, Jin Mou, the 34-year-old deputy editor-in-chief of Tianya Community, often stayed up late, fainted on the Beijing subway, and passed away after being rescued... It is time for us to reflect on the lack of legal response behind this phenomenon.

  Wang Tianyu: my country's labor laws and regulations have clearly stipulated the working hour system.

For example, the standard working hours system stipulated in Article 36 of the Labor Law is "the daily working hours shall not exceed 8 hours and the average weekly working hours shall not exceed 44 hours".

For another example, the "Provisions of the State Council on Working Hours of Employees" redefined the standard working hours as "8 hours a day and 40 hours a week".

But in practice, we have not kept the bottom line of labor standards.

As far as the employees of the platform companies are concerned, the “996” work system to the recently exposed uncontrolled overtime is a flagrant violation of the labor law.

  However, the labor law is a "toothless tiger" and lacks strong enforcement means.

For example, in the case of unregulated overtime work by platform companies, Article 90 of the Labor Law only stipulates that "If the employer violates the provisions of this law and extends the working hours of the worker, the labor administrative department shall give a warning, order correction, and impose a fine." It should be noted that the fine here is not "should" but "may", which is an optional enforcement measure.

  In this context, a company can break through the statutory overtime limit at a very low illegal cost, and any company doing so will form a cost advantage to other companies in the same industry. Other companies may actively or passively follow up, which leads to industry-specific Overtime is rampant, and labor benchmarks have been defeated across the board.

When workers lose the "protective umbrella" of labor standards and work overtime is normalized or regarded as a matter of course, the "benefit theory" and "struggle theory" that beautify or even promote labor violations will appear on the scene.

  On the other hand, my country has not yet established a legal system that adapts to the new employment patterns in the digital age.

It needs to be emphasized that it is either the employment form related to the Internet platform or the new business form. Riders with a clear labor relationship should undoubtedly apply the labor law.

It is crowdsourced riders and other similar online car-hailing drivers and surrogate drivers that truly reflect the new employment characteristics of the digital age.

  This group of people has contradictory attributes: first, they can independently decide whether to work, when to work, and where to work, which is different from the characteristics of the labor contract under labor relations; second, they obtain income through the platform and form a relationship with the platform. It is economically dependent and must be subject to platform rules due to "platform points"; finally, it cannot participate in the formulation of platform rules, nor can it change contract conditions.

The resulting legal dilemma is that the nature of the labor of many riders does not conform to the labor relationship and cannot be included in the current labor law adjustments, and their weakness or the necessity of social protection is a reality, which is equivalent to being in an unreliable situation. .

  In summary, the crux of the problem lies in the lack of effective legal restrictions on the platform's power, enabling it to act recklessly in the platform ecosystem, and to "extreme pressure" on all participants in pursuit of efficiency and profit.

In addition to causing heavy pressure on participants, this pressure has also spilled over to the public domain. The most typical example is that some takeaway riders have to go retrograde, run red lights, and speed under the pressure of the system algorithm, which increases the traffic risk and therefore occurs. There have been many traffic accidents, and both riders and pedestrians have suffered casualties.

Weaving Secret Labor Protection Net

Effectively solve work death

  Reporter: In a society under the rule of law, weaving a legal protection network for laborers is due. Only in this way can we fundamentally solve the real dilemma that laborers are in a state of overwork for a long time.

The question now is, how do we design labor laws for the Internet era and the new era?

  Wang Tianyu: At present, the Internet industry has reached the time when it must be regulated.

The Party Central Committee proposed to promote the healthy development of platform economy and sharing economy.

To achieve this goal, the top priority is to regulate the power of the platform, implement classified policies according to the legal relationship between the platform and the participants, and use a variety of institutional tools to build a "legal cage".

  In terms of the relationship between Internet companies and employees, it is necessary to improve labor laws, put capital in a "labor law cage", establish the bottom line of total working hours, and establish a working time allocation system that adapts to work flexibility in the Internet era.

The labor law can consider setting a monthly or quarterly overtime limit to replace the existing weekly overtime limit, and can appropriately increase the overtime limit under the premise of enumerating special circumstances in order to adapt to the trend of work flexibility in the digital age.

To complement this, the legal liability for violating working hours standards should be greatly increased, so that labor laws can grow teeth.

For companies that violate labor laws, various administrative penalties, such as fines, suspension of business for rectification, etc., will be imposed according to the severity of the circumstances. If serious consequences such as "death from overwork" occur, the individual responsibility of the business management personnel should be investigated and the production safety law should be introduced Responsibility model, the main person in charge will be removed, fined, and not be the main person in charge of any production and business unit within 5 years.

  Regarding the relationship between the platform and the rider, it is necessary to develop a broad labor law that adapts to the digital age.

The current legal framework for labor adjustment in my country is a dual structure of "civil law-labor law", in which the civil law adjusts independent labor and the labor law adjusts subordinate labor.

With the flexible and diversified labor methods, this either-or labor division method is increasingly unable to meet the needs of reality.

Takeaway meal delivery riders are typical. For these platform practitioners who participate in platform employment and whose labor style is different from that of employees under labor relations, they should comprehensively consider their new employment characteristics and the necessity of social protection, and define them as "class employees". Under the framework of the existing labor dichotomy, new types of labor are added to enrich the abstraction and expression of labor in the law, thereby transforming to the three-division law of "civil law-employee law-labor law".

Under this system, the labor law is a narrow labor law for employees under labor relations; the quasi-employee law is for employees under non-labor relations, mainly flexible employees, and constitutes a set of normative systems parallel to the labor law.

The Employee Law and Labor Law together constitute a broad labor law, which fully covers various types of social labor methods.

  It should be noted that labor law and labor relations are, after all, a normative system and way of thinking formed in an industrial society. They are aimed at the bureaucratic and organized labor model, which is essentially different from the platform-based labor model.

Since platform labor cannot be used in the industrial age, how can it be explained and regulated by the thinking and systems of the industrial age.

The productive forces keep moving forward, and wishful thinking cannot hold the wheel of the times forward.

  The door to the digital age has just opened, and platform employment is only one of the new things we encounter when we enter this new era.

We must protect the rights and interests of various participants, regulate the power of the platform, and reconstruct the platform ecosystem. All these goals must be carried out in the basic dimension of the digital age.

We must have the courage and confidence to face the future, strive to provide Chinese solutions for the "great changes unseen in a century" in the way of human labor, and explore the future development direction of labor law.