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News Analysis 20 Jul 2020 - 3 min read

TikTok denies six-day working week contracts; long hours the norm but salaries nearly as lucrative as Facebook

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

Despite industry rumblings, TikTok has told Mi3  it does not strike any employee contracts with mandatory six-day working weeks. But online workplace review portals indicate long hours are the norm via a blend of an Asian company work ethic and a fast moving tech start-up. 

What you need to know:

  • Industry rumblings have been on the rise around TikTok's Australian office mandating some staff  to work extended hours and weekends
  • The platform denies the claims, confirming to Mi3  that its employment contracts adhere to Australia's National Employment Standards
  • Workplace review sites such as Glassdoor carry numerous current and former staff comments that highlight long hours as a common thread to working with the platform
  • But industry observers say TikTok's employee remuneration is among the industry's most lucrative, including stock options, after Facebook 
  • Outside of its local hiring spree, TikTok is facing a probe by the Australian Government on how its Chinese parent company ByteDance might share user data with the Chinese government
  • The central issue driving political and corporate concerns here, the US, UK and Europe is a new national intelligence law in 2017 which states that “any organisation and citizen” shall “support and cooperate in national intelligence work” 
  • Theo Bertram, TikTok's head of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa told the BBC yesterday if TikTok were approached by the Chinese government, "we would definitely say no to any request for data"
  • TikTok's Australian General Manager Lee Hunter responded to Federal members last week as TikTok went on the offensive, launching a national ad campaign reinforcing its position on data privacy and imploring people to not use it "as a political football"
  • The company says all data collected from Australian users is stored in Singapore and the United States and has never been passed on to the Chinese Government
  • TikTok has pulled its operation in Hong Kong, was banned in India two weeks ago while the US is threatening to ban TikTok unless it is domiciled as a US company. Like Australia, a number of other countries are assessing the geo-political and commercial impacts of a newly aggressive China
All in a hard day's work

After officially opening its doors in Australia just over a month ago, TikTok has faced an avalanche of PR and government attention.

The company's recent hiring run has also drawn attention due to its expectation surrounding working hours and culture for its staff.

Industry conjecture here has been circling for months - even before the official opening in Australia - that the social video platform was asking some potential employees to work extended hours and Saturdays.

TikTok rejected the speculation in a statement to Mi3, saying that it was completely compliant with the relevant federal employment scheme.

"Our employment contracts for TikTok employees in Australia comply with the National Employment Standards," TikTok said in a statement to Mi3.

"Our Australian employment contracts outline that the standard working hours are 38 hours per week for those working full time (a five day working week). Our staff in Australia are not required to work a six day week."

Globally, the company has attracted staff comments on employer review sites such as Glassdoor pointing out their employment culture.

While generally positive when it comes to the overall business, reviews draw attention to late hours, global time differences causing confusion and an "Asian working culture" forcing to work outside of usual times.

Some examples include:

  • "long hours due to being based in China with an Asian work culture"

  • "due to time difference (global teams) meetings and communication takes also place outside the regular working hours"

  • "fast paced and ambitious so if you want a normal 9-5 this isn't for you" 

References to long hours, irregular time difference and overall requirements surrounding day-to-day work life balance appeared consistently throughout reviews.


Data concerns

Employment contracts are only a small part of the challenge that has faced TikTok in the past month.

The company has now also drawn the attention of the Federal Government as calls to ban the platform over data and privacy leaks mount.

Most recently, the company pulled out of Hong Kong to help diffuse global concerns its Chinese parent company ByteDance would be forced to adhere to potential commercially-compromising demands from the Chinese Communist Party. India three weeks ago said it would ban TikTok and other Chinese apps like WeChat.

The Federal government says it is keeping a "close eye" on the platform and will intervene should it become necessary.

Talking on 3AW, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said TikTok, alongside fellow Chinese-owned chat platform WeChat, will be subject to an investigation.

“We are always very mindful of those risks and we are always monitoring them very, very closely,” he said on air last Friday.

“If we consider there is a need to take further action than we are taking now, then I can tell you we won’t be shy about it.”

A letter has been sent to federal MPs from TikTok outlining that it is "independent", and not aligned with any Government, political party or ideology".

Lee Hunter, General Manager of TikTok Australia and a former Google execuitve, urged the government to refrain from using it as a political football.

"Contrary to some claims, we are not aligned with any Government, political party or ideology. We are a privately owned company and TikTok is focused on enabling people to make and share creative and fun videos," Hunter says.

"We strive to be a platform that is both safe and fun to use, and we prioritise protecting the security of our users' data."

TikTok says its Australian user data is stored in Singapore and the United States and that it works to minimise access across regions, following claims parent company ByteDance has close ties with the Chinese Government.

"We have never provided TikTok user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked," the company said in a statement. "No government has special access to TikTok Australia user data, and our operations to protect that data are consistent with those of other global technology companies."

To address further concerns and government scrutiny, Tiktok has hired renowned cyber security expert Roland Cloutier as its global Chief Information Security Officer.


On the front foot

Last week, TikTok Australia began its PR counter, using the idea of a "political football" in its national campaign regarding data concerns.

The campaign appeared widely throughout print and online media, reminding the public it is focused on user safety and data protection.

The tagline also included the line "we're safe, we're fun, we're independent".

"TikTok does not share information of our users in Australia with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government, and would not do so if asked. We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity," TikTok says in further commentary.

"We always welcome the opportunity to meet with policymakers to talk about TikTok, including the steps we're taking to make it an even safer and more creative place."

The company has also circulated numerous emails among consumer and trade press detailing the current issues the company is facing and providing statements regardless if they had been requested.

Despite these issues, the platform has seen steady ad spend growth in Australia, with the first dedicated TikTok consultancy TikMyDay launching earlier this year.

TikTok has also garnered investment from major clients including Optus and BMW-owned auto brand MINI, with the app boasting a user base of 1.6m users, according to Roy Morgan.

However, clients and agencies have still been hesitant to use the platform, seeing it as an "obscure, ineffective and hard to measure media channel".

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Josh McDonnell

Senior Writer

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