Guangzhou taxis strike despite cuts in car rents

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 December, 2008, 12:00am

About 70 per cent of Guangzhou's 17,821 taxis went on strike yesterday in what mainland labour experts described as the 'largest industrial action' since 1989.

The strike was called despite government efforts to pacify the drivers. The city government has ordered an 800 yuan (HK$910) cut in the monthly rent for drivers and launched a crackdown on illegal taxis, aiming to resolve to two key grievances of the licensed drivers.

Yesterday's strike was peaceful. Drivers did not gather, as they feared doing so would bring confrontation with police. Instead, most drivers simply parked their taxis in Guangzhou's rural areas where parking fees are low or non-existent. Some said they would play cards; others planned to spend time on vehicle maintenance.

'I will drive a client to Foshan and stay the day to avoid having my car smashed,' said Yang Peiliang, a taxi driver with Tianhu Tongyi Company. He heard that taxis on duty yesterday might be intercepted and smashed by striking cabbies.

Drivers said they did not know how many colleagues were involved in the strike, but judging by the number of taxis still on the streets, they estimated that up to 70 per cent - more than 23,000 drivers - had taken part in the 'private strike'.

More than 500 police officers and security guards had been stationed outside several government buildings in case of possible demonstrations early yesterday. But drivers said they did not want to protest publicly for fear of getting in trouble.

Several drivers said that in 2005, 11 of their colleagues who had led a public strike of a small group of taxis in Guangzhou were arrested and one sentenced to 11 years in jail for 'disturbing public order'.

Rumours of a strike had been spreading since early last week.

The measures to dissuade strikers included a monthly rental-fee cut of 800 yuan taking effect yesterday, and more strict inspections to root out unlicensed cabs and those from other cities.

Though all state-owned newspapers and radio channels targeted at drivers repeatedly propagated the measures aimed at the strike, drivers said it was not enough. 'Eight hundred yuan is not enough for us,' said Song Jiancong, a driver with Jiao Tong taxi group.

His colleagues did not believe taxi companies could carry out all the measures. 'We had been complaining for such a long time and there has been no response at all,' he said, adding that according to previous government regulations, their monthly rental fee should have been 8,200 yuan not the current 11,000 yuan.

This is the second time Guangzhou cabbies have gone on strike in two weeks, and is perhaps the biggest of nine drivers' strikes on the mainland in a month.

Compared with the first strike on November 15 that only small groups of drivers attended, yesterday's action affected large numbers of people in Guangzhou. Jai Kumar, an Indian businessman who has lived in Guangzhou for four years, said it was the first time he had spent more than 30 minutes waiting for a cab in the city centre at noon.

A Guangzhou-based expert on labour movements said the wave of strikes spreading in at least eight cities in one month was the biggest of this kind since 1989, but that the government must have re-evaluated its policies to have avoided a more severe situation.