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Oracle to lay off 1,600 staff in China

The mass sacking triggered protests and concerns over U.S.-China tech tensions

U.S. computer technology giant Oracle is shuttering its entire Research and Development Center in China (CDC). More than 900 employees have been laid off, and the second round of job cuts is expected to happen in July.

According to several Chinese media reports, the layoff notice was made in an all-hands meeting on Tuesday. In the meeting, the company’s head of human resources for the Asia-Pacific region announced that per orders from the U.S. headquarters, Oracle was planning to make some major changes to optimize its business structure, which would inevitably result in huge multi-phase staff reductions globally. Following the brief statement were private layoff conversations inside the Beijing branch of the center, where about 500 employees were informed of their loss of jobs.

Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald reported (in Chinese) that rumors about potential layoffs had started floating around since the end of last year, when CDC stopped hiring new people. The employees affected by the first round of layoffs were told to sign their releases before May 22 to claim full severance packages. After the complete closure of CDC’s Beijing office, Oracle’s employees in Nanjing, Dalian, and Shenzhen are on the line to lose their jobs. By slashing its entire staff of CDC, Oracle is planning to cut over 1,600 jobs in China.

The layoffs quickly prompted workers’ protests denouncing the short notice and unclear reasons of job cuts. On the afternoon of May 7, some Beijing employees put up banners outside the office buildings. One banner reads, “High profits, why layoffs?” and another reads, “We need jobs. Our kids need to go to school.” Some appeared to have linked the layoffs with the escalating trade tensions between China and the U.S. as one banner says, “We are against political layoffs. Keep politics away from technology!”

People working in the Chinese tech industry reacted to the news with a mix of shock and, depending on their positions, empathy or indifference. On the one hand, because the average age of the people who were sacked is reportedly 37 years old, which some consider too old for the fast-paced tech sector, many worry it will be difficult for the laid-off employees to find new jobs. In an attempt to help this new group of job seekers, recruitment platform Lagou.com has launched a specific page named “Oracle talents” to connect them and potential employers. On the other hand, a former employee of Oracle China pointed out that the company had long been known as an “elderly care facility” in the industry because of its low-stress work environment and good employee benefits compared with those of domestic firms. “The severance packages are quite generous,” an internet user wrote (in Chinese) in disagreement with the protests. “They need to remain alert and step out of their comfort zone.”

The staffing cuts came at a particularly sensitive time for U.S.-China relations because of the ongoing trade war. In fact, as indicated in a Fox News interview of Oracle’s co-founder Larry Ellison last October, the tech giant seems to have picked a side in the dispute. In the video, Ellison describes China as a big threat to the U.S., adding that there is some hypocrisy in Google’s policies of refusing to work for the U.S. military while trying to return to China. “I think our big competitor is China, and that if we let China’s economy pass us up — if we let China produce more engineers than we do, if we let China’s technology companies beat our technology companies — it won’t be long before our military is behind technologically also,” he said.

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Jiayun Feng

Jiayun was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allowed her to pursue a journalism career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.

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