Ren Zhengfei, founder and chief executive of Huawei Technologies, has responded to employee complaints about the telecom giant’s working conditions aired online saying that he supports discussion of contentious issues but that this debate should be kept within the company’s internal community.

Ren’s statement comes after an internal post by an HR staff member, listing complaints such as the long working hours at Huawei among other matters, was leaked and ended up going viral on social media platforms in China such as Weibo.

A man uses his smartphone as he stands near a billboard for Chinese technology firm Huawei at the PT Expo in Beijing on October 31, 2019. (Picture: AP)

“Real-name complaints are good for the company’s democratic management but staff discussion should remain internal and not disturb external society,” said Ren in an internal letter which Huawei later posted to its online community. “Everyone can fully express different opinions based on facts and evidence.”

Hu Ling, a member of the human resources team at Huawei’s elite 2012 Lab research unit, had posted a letter [later deleted] on internal platform Xinshengshequ last week that criticized some of her HR colleagues and which listed some issues that staff had complained about. It was later leaked and circulated outside the company. Huawei 2012 Laboratories is the innovation, research and technology development arm of Huawei.

Hu’s letter stated that the previous head of HR had asked for permission to lay off employees who had complained about corporate welfare issues, such as the quality of canteen and shuttle bus services.

“Average overtime work reached 57 hours every month among research people at Huawei 2012 lab… but the national labor law states that the maximum overtime per month should be 36 hours,” Hu wrote in the leaked letter. “The main task of senior employee relations specialists at Huawei seems to be to help the company exempt itself from responsibility when people burn out.”

The criticism of Huawei has emerged at a time when the hard-working culture among Chinese tech companies in general is coming under wider public scrutiny. Firms have been criticized by some employees for their notorious 996 culture – which means working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week.

Huawei in particular is known within Chinese business circles for its “wolf culture” – which means employees must be determined, fearless and aggressive. Indeed, Ren [who has a military background] often recounts tales of bravery and heroism by Huawei staff in the face of extreme hardship and adversity, and that an unrelenting customer focus and stoicism have become essential parts of the firm’s identity.

Ren’s latest statement appears aimed at bringing his workforce together though.

“In the past three decades when we developed from nothing into a leading global company, our staff – and especially research personnel – have done a great job, and our managers and HR people have also worked very hard. They laid the foundations [of our success],” said Ren.

Ren said the HR team had a difficult job dealing with around 190,000 staff worldwide, handling complaints, salary and bonus issues as well as promotions and resignations.

Reactions on Weibo to Ren’s post were mixed, with some saying that Huawei’s culture appealed only to a certain type of personality and that Ren was trying to stamp out leaks to the outside that could damage the company’s reputation.