Workers across China have joined a large-scale online network in response to a new working hours system implemented by supermarket Walmart.

Walmart Workers’ Network, which usually fluctuates between 100-200 members, grew to 10,000 in just a few weeks, according to Wang Shishu, the group’s co-founder.

Wang explained the implications of Walmart’s new working hours system on WeChat – China’s most widely-used messaging app – prompting thousands of employees to join the network, NGO China Labour Bulletin said.

walmart china workers organise online
Photo: Walmart China workers official blog.

Workers are concerned that the supermarket’s new flexible working hours system will jeopardise their fixed hours and force them to resign to save the company from doling out severance pay, they claimed in an open letter addressed to the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). It was signed by up to a thousand workers.

Walmart’s new working hours model will be implemented from July across all stores in China, the supermarket said in a press release at the end of May. “It will arrange more flexible and reasonable working schedules according to worker’s personal needs and the level of demand in stores.”

The company also said that “the benefits and income that employees already have will not change.”

walmart china workers organise online
A banner protesting a store closure. Photo: Walmart China workers official blog.

“Actively pushing the union to do their job is the best course of action,” Wang Jiangsong, a Chinese labour relations expert, told China Labour Bulletin.

Last month, an official at a local federation in Nanchang helped broker an agreement between Walmart management and worker representatives which guaranteed that the new working hours system would be voluntary, the Walmart China Workers’ official blog said.

Wang’s online network is facing obstacles such as online trolls and investigations by the National Security Bureau. The bureau is concerned that the group may be receiving foreign funding.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.