Log off when clocked out: China’s legislature considers the right of “offline rest”

The “Two Sessions”, China’s annual meeting of top legislatures, came to a close on Monday 11 March. According to the South China Morning Post, Lyu Guoquan of China’s trade union federation had proposed to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC, the equivalent of the upper house of parliament) that “working overtime online” should be legally defined, with a framework for compensation for such overtime work, as well as adding the right to “offline rest” to labour laws. On 10 March, Lyu told China Nation Radio that CPPCC had accepted his proposal and it would be discussed later.

At the same time, China’s supreme court also released a statement on protecting worker’s rights to “offline rest”. “Invisible overtime”, in the form of having employees stay online after work, will warrant compensation. According to the court’s report, it will consider “contributing substantive labour” on tasks that “evidently consume time” as a standard for overtime, which would include staying online.

Chinese office workers have long suffered from toxic workplace cultures. However, “invisible overtime” has often been overlooked as many workers stay online for more than an hour after office hours. This often becomes “unpaid overwork”, according to Lyu. On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform the topic “Proposal for legal right to offline rest is accepted” (#离线休息权的提案以立案#) reached number 19 on the Hot Search list with 27.91 million views.

However, many netizens think that it will be a long process before the proposal becomes law. The main concern is the technicality of how to define “online” and “work”. With technology and interconnectivity of apps such as between workplace app DingTalk and messaging app WeChat, it has become harder to differentiate a specific state of “working online” from regular connectivity. However, it is a positive step towards a better work-life balance, which is one of the themes of this year’s “two sessions”.


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