China economy

Chinese truck drivers, activists warn of more protests over fuel, fines and cutthroat rates

Drivers say they are struggling to survive as online truck logistics platform forces them into a haulage rates race to the bottom

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 10:59pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 10:27am

Protests by long-haul truck drivers over rising costs and shrinking incomes could flare up again after sporadic highway demonstrations on the weekend, drivers and activists said.

Thousands of truck drivers are believed to have taken part in protests in a dozen places – including Shanghai and Chongqing – since Friday.

Footage and photos posted online showed drivers honking horns, driving slowly, chanting slogans and holding up banners.

As well as complaining about high fuel costs and random traffic fines, the drivers were protesting over changes to an Uber-like online truck logistics platform that pairs owner-drivers with freight shippers.

Long-distance truck drivers have protested before but the action this time is significant for breaking through the heavy censorship of China’s media to show the impact of internet companies on Chinese workers.

In the videos, some protesters urged drivers to boycott an online truck logistics platform owned by Manbang Group.

Manbang was formed from the merger of Yun Man Man with rival Huo Che Bang, creating what drivers claim is a monopoly that forces drivers to bid for freight orders at cutthroat prices.

“We are struggling just to survive,” one driver based in Yantai, Shandong province, said, refusing to rule out similar action later this year.

“We did not plan the strikes, there is no leadership or organisation. We speak out from time to time.

“We can’t make a living any more now that haulage rates are under fierce competition and the diesel price is 7 yuan (US$1.09) a litre ... We are also often randomly fined for traffic violations.”

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Diesel prices have climbed steadily – this time last year the price was 5.6 yuan per litre.

In the online videos, a number of trucks were also vandalised after their drivers refused to take part in the protests.

Manbang did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Ministry of Transport, there are 18 million long-distance truck drivers but other estimates put the number at 30 million – a sizable group whose growing grievances the authorities cannot afford to overlook.

Earlier reports said Huo Che Bang, which had more than 6.4 million registered drivers, set up an arbitration committee to resolve dozens of disputes.

Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, which tracks industrial disputes on the mainland, said food delivery motorcyclists also protested against mobile apps Meituan and on Thursday in Zhejiang, Shandong and Shaanxi provinces, where increased competition among delivery platforms has drastically reduced workers’ take-home pay. Alibaba owns both and the South China Morning Post.

China Labour Bulletin spokesman Geoff Crothall said the protests by truck drivers would grow.

“In the next few months, I would expect to see more strikes like this especially if fuel prices continue to rise and there is no meaningful or concrete response from the government,” he said.

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Earlier this week, Chinese authorities appeared to have responded to the protests by opening a handful of “drivers’ homes” in 10 provinces, offering the truckers rest stops, Wi-fi and maintenance services.

“[The government response] is clearly not enough for they remain superficial measures designed to take the edge off workers’ grievances, making lives a bit easier for them on the road,” Crothall said.

“But the fundamental concern for them is not to have a good meal or shower on the road but rather a decent haulage rate for the job they do.”

In April, the Social Sciences Academic Press released a study that found Chinese truck drivers had to work over 12 hours a day for an average monthly income of about 8,000 yuan in 2016.

The drivers were constantly on the road, slept in their trucks and could not see their family for months in a time, the study found.