Truckers Protest High Gas Prices in Spotty Strikes Across China

Trucks transport shipping containers at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province

BEIJING—Truckers left their vehicles sitting idle and blocked roads over the weekend in spotty strikes across China driven by frustrations over higher fuel costs, falling haulage rates and transportation apps that are squeezing their profits.

Truck drivers and logistic agents said protests took place in at least three cities, from Chengdu in the west to Jinhua in the east. All told, the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin, which monitors labor unrest, counted strikes in at least a dozen places.

Touching off the protests was an unsigned message that circulated widely on social media. “We can’t take it anymore, we have no choice but to stand together!” it read. “We definitely won’t survive with the ridiculously low transport fees we’re being paid.” That message was deleted by censors, as were photos and video footage of striking drivers and traffic at a standstill, which circulated around social media.

While trucker protests in China have occurred in the past amid complaints of road tolls, fuel prices and excessive fees, Geoff Crothall, spokesman for the labor monitoring group, said he couldn’t recall trucker protests of a similar scale. He estimated thousands of truckers participated.

As they have the world over, gas prices have risen in China this year, by 8.6%, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce. Taxes and other fees generally make gas more expensive in China than the U.S., and on top of that the government sets the prices, lagging changes in international oil markets by 10 days or more.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission, which sets those prices, announced Friday that it would cut the retail price of gasoline and diesel by 130 yuan ($20.29) per ton for gasoline and 125 yuan per ton for diesel. The new prices, effective this past Saturday, reflect a recent retreat in global oil prices. In the central province of Anhui, a transportation hub where protests occurred, gasoline now costs $3.99 a gallon, and diesel $4.04 a gallon.

Rising fuel costs have elsewhere prompted worker frustrations to spill over, most notably in Brazil, where protesters blocked highways and halted shipments of food, fuel and medicine before the government called in the military to help end the strike. Other trucker protests have also recently broken out in Iran.

Trucking is a grueling job in China. Drivers typically own their own rigs and spend long, exhausted stretches on the road away from family. Zhang Huande, a trucker based in the Shanghai area who transports construction materials, said that in recent years rising fuel costs have cut his earnings by some 40,000 yuan ($6,245) a year. He declined to state his annual income.

“If I was buying a new truck and just getting started, I’d jump off a building,” said Mr. Zhang, who didn’t participate in the weekend strikes but heard of others who had in the central city of Hefei.

Another disruption in recent years, truckers said, has been the arrival of application software that directly matches truck drivers with those needing their services. One of the largest is owned by Manbang Group, formed by the November merger of two other services, Yunmanman and Truck Alliance Inc. The app claims more than 5 million truck drivers use its service, a sixth of the country’s total.

Some drivers, as well as Mr. Crothall, said the apps were helping to drive down haulage fees. New features in the Yunmanman app rolled out on a trial basis earlier this month sparked particular anxiety, some drivers said. The feature makes it possible for drivers to bid for jobs posted by shippers directly through the app—instead of negotiating via phone. It was launched in the cities of Hefei and Jinhua, where protests occurred. Police in Hefei and Jinhua didn’t answer telephone calls to request comment.

The new function, said Yunmanman spokeswoman Julia Zhu, offers a more efficient way for drivers and shippers to negotiate. “The market decides the prices, not us.”

China’s new mobile economy has spurred other protests in recent years, including by taxi drivers upset over ride-hailing apps that allowed private drivers to compete for fares. Last month, a rash of work stoppages and other protests occurred among the drivers who zip around on scooters delivering food to the country’s white-collar office workers; their complaints included pay and overall working conditions.


Aaron Halegua, research fellow at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University, said that cross-provincial labor actions such as this past weekend’s strike have become increasingly common in recent years, with social media making it easier for them to spread “before they are squelched.” In addition to food delivery workers, other strikes in recent months have involved tower crane operators and van drivers.

Some truck drivers said they didn’t participate in the weekend’s strike, and that they felt the problem wasn’t with new apps, but rather with drivers who were willing to accept low haulage fees. Others said the reasons were simply financial. “I’ve been busy working. If I strike, I’ll lose my livelihood,” Mr. Zhang said.

 

Source:https://www.wsj.com/articles/truckers-protest-high-gas-prices-in-spotty-strikes-across-china-1528729267

 

on 11 June 2018