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Microsoft workers criticize block of GitHub protest in China

A vocal group of Microsoft Corp. employees is calling on the company to support a rare online protest from Chinese technology workers spawned on GitHub, the software code-sharing site Microsoft owns.

In March, Chinese computer programmers took to GitHub to complain about long work hours, a flash-point for the country’s tech giants and startups. The protests were posted on a “repository,” a collaborative online tool, called 996.ICU. That’s shorthand for working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week and ending up in the intensive care unit.

The 996.ICU campaign went viral, creating a flurry of activity in China’s tech companies and an unusual open protest in the country. The repository was then quickly blocked on Chinese websites. Microsoft employees are asking that it remain open, according to an open letter published on Monday on GitHub.

“We have to come together across national boundaries to ensure just working conditions for everyone around the globe,” the letter reads. The letter does not list the employees names but says it is signed by 30 tech workers. Microsoft, which has about 130,000 employees worldwide, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The letter puts new pressure on Microsoft, which has a significant corporate presence in China. The company operates its cloud business and Bing search engine in the country. While most U.S. social media services are blocked in China, Microsoft’s LinkedIn professional network is not.

In 2013, GitHub was briefly blocked inside China, which restricts most U.S. tech services. After complaints from local software engineers and tech executives, China lifted the ban.

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