During a keynote speech on May 10, Elon Musk praised Tesla factory workers in China for working under conditions that violate labor laws in many parts of the world — including those in China, as The Guardian noted.
Elon’s high praise has gone out to workers forced to meet production targets amid pandemic lockdowns, which have been underway at the Gigafactory in Shanghai since April. The Tesla CEO compared Chinese workers to their American counterparts, whom Musk says lacks a work ethic that he finds impressive and vital to the success of EV companies.
Here’s what Elon Musk told the Financial Times during his keynote speech:
I think the company that is making the most progress besides Tesla is VW, which is not a start-up, but in some ways, can be seen as a start-up from an electric vehicle point of view. So VW is doing the most in the field of electric vehicles. I think there will be some very strong companies coming out of China. There are just many super-talented and hardworking people in China who strongly believe in manufacturing. And they won’t just burn the midnight oil. They will burn the fat from 3 am. So they won’t even leave the factory type. While in America, people try not to go to work at all.
Yep. Judging by what Musk says, it sounds like they’re saying is true: No one wants to work anymore. That is, except for workers in China, where the conditions that allow Tesla to meet production targets during lockdowns have less to do with burning oil after midnight and more to do with China’s extreme work culture. This means Musk isn’t praising hardworking people so much as disregarding labor rules.
The problem is that this disregard is not uncommon in the country, although China ostensibly does not allow such circumstances. Chinese workers are officially allowed to work no more than 48 hours a week, including overtime.
During the lockdowns, Gigafactory workers reportedly worked 12-hour shifts six days a week, sleeping on the floor. Again, that’s not just during recent lockdowns. This is common enough to be nicknamed “996”. That is an abbreviation for shifts from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week.
If you keep the count, that’s 72 hours a week. Musk has been known to brag about working 100-120 hour workweeks and holding work meetings at 1 am. So judging by its numbers, Chinese workers don’t work unreasonable hours. And yet, since 2018, the Gigafactory in Shanghai has received numerous reports of labor rights and security violations.
What changes – if any – these reports bring about are difficult to enforce if China sees little wrong with grueling working conditions. And these stories billionaires like Musk tell about “hardworking people” don’t help.