The Chongqing municipal government has made a high profile intervention in an attempt to end the widespread and sometimes violent taxi drivers’ strike that erupted in China’s fourth largest city on 3 November. The intervention came as teachers in Chongqing’s Qijiang county ended an eight day strike over pay and conditions.
Although the majority of the city’s 9,000 cab drivers remain on strike, the government’s rapid response indicates both its concern over social unrest and the unusually high level of coverage given to the strike by the official Chinese media.
The government promised on 4 November to address driver’s grievances by revising the division of fares between drivers and companies in favour of drivers, increasing supplies of compressed natural gas, and cracking down on unlicensed cabs. Zhou Bo, deputy head of the Municipal Party’s publicity department, said the government was also considering tightening regulations on cab companies in order to improve drivers’ pay and conditions.
Chongqing licensed cab drivers have to pay their company 380 yuan to 440 yuan a day in fees, the bulk of which goes straight into the pockets of company bosses. This, combined with severe shortages of compressed natural gas, excessive fines by traffic police and expanding numbers of unlicensed cabs, has gradually fuelled drivers’ anger.
There have been dozens of taxi strikes and protests by drivers over the last few years, and nearly all have resulted from four main factors: 1. Excessive fees and charges paid to taxi companies which can amount to two thirds of daily takings. 2. Local government deregulation of the taxi business, leading to the infringement of the rights and interests of drivers. 3. Excessive and unwarranted fines imposed by traffic police. 4. Increases in the cost of fuel, combined with the government’s failure to adjust prices in time, leading to driver losses.
Several local union federations have claimed to have set up unions in taxi companies however these unions are largely controlled by management and are very unlikely to organize strikes and protests, and certainly cannot represent workers rights and interests. One Chongqing taxi driver Yang Liming said in his blog that in August 2005, a group of drivers approached the municipal trade union federation with a request to set up a union but were turned down on the grounds that they “should go through the [taxi company] to set up a union.”
A brief list of municipal taxi strikes in China since 2004
August 2004. Yinchuan, Ningxia. 6,000 drivers stage strike.
September 2004. Baotou, Inner Mongolia. 5,000 drivers stage strike.
March 2005. Taicang, Jiangsu. 300 drivers stage strike.
August 2005. Hefei, Anhui. 6,400 drivers stage strike.
July 2006. Beijing. A group of taxi drivers stage a strike.
July 2007. Zhengzhou, Henan. 10,000 drivers stage strike.
August 2007. Luoyang, Henan. 10,000 drivers stage strike.
October 2007. Changchun, Jilin. 100 drivers stage strike.
December 2007. Harbin, Heilongjiang. 300 drivers stage strike.
September 2008. Chibi, Hubei. 300 drivers stage strike.
The Qijiang county teachers called off their action, which began on 23 October, and returned to class on 4 November after extensive negations with the county government and school principals. A teachers’ representative told CLB Director Han Dongfang that although government officials seem sincere they had not yet come up with any concrete proposals. An English teacher at Zhongfeng Middle School said he had been teaching for 17 years but that his salary was still little more than one thousand yuan a month.