Long-distance truck-drivers and haulage contractors staged a nationwide strike across China at the weekend in protest low fees, rising fuel costs, and insecure contracts.
The strike was called via social media, with an anonymous statement calling for the strike to begin on June 10, urging 30 million truckers across the country to refuse work.
"Have you heard of Yun Man Man? It's a logistics app, and recently they introduced a bidding system," one striking truck driver told RFA on Monday. "This means that they will definitely pick the cheapest bid."
"People will be forced to keep cutting their haulage fee, which is negative competition. That was what triggered [the strike]," he said.
Protests and strikes have been reported in the eastern provinces of Shandong, Anhui, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang, and southwestern Sichuan, Guizhou, and Chonqing, as well as in the central provinces of Hubei and Henan and in Shanghai, the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin (CLB) reported.
Video footage of stationary trucks in long lines circulated on social media, but posts relating to the strike were quickly deleted, the group said.
"This combined with the complete silence of the official media on the subject has made it virtually impossible to assess the actual extent of the strike," CLB reported.
China's truck drivers are increasingly forming part of the country's "gig economy," where independent contractors take on the burden of paying for their own vehicles, fuel, and other costs, while online platforms expect them to work without a break for one-off fees, with no job security.
Rising fuel prices
Drivers say that rising fuel prices have squeezed their profits in recent years, as logistics platforms have failed to raise fees in tandem with rising costs.
They are also complaining about the arbitrary application of fines and sanctions for alleged traffic violations, which further eats into their earnings, CLB said.
The dominant haulage platform Yun Man Man says that 95 percent of all road transport transactions go through its app, adding that some 78 percent of long-distance truckers use its platform.
CLB cited a recent study as saying that more than 71 percent of drivers own their own vehicles, and often carry a heavy debt burden that goes with them.
A driver surnamed Shen said that he used to work in long-distance haulage at a time when drivers stood to make a decent profit margin.
"When I was driving trucks, fuel wasn't that expensive, but it's very expensive now," Shen said. "Another thing is that you have to pay fees and tolls everywhere you go, such as toll fees to use the motorway or national highways. Even small places are charging money now."
"Another problems is fines, or rather, not exactly a fine, but some money you give to the policeman so you will be allowed to go on your way," he said. "There are also people everywhere you go that we could call the mafia ... who are names in that place, who you have to pay, so you can get through ... without any obstacles."
'A unified movement'
An employee who answered the phone at the transportation bureau in Jiangxi's Xiushui county said the problem came under the remit of the logistics bureau.
But calls to the county government logistics bureau rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
"The truck drivers are on strike, in a unified movement across the country," a source in Jiangxi province surnamed Long told RFA. "It's getting harder and harder for them to make a living, so they are going on strike."
"Fuel prices are rising, and toll fees are going up. It's very hard work driving around everywhere all hours of the day and night for months on end, and on top of that, you can't make a profit," he said.
Repeated calls to the State Council's Transportation and Haulage Department in Beijing rang unanswered on Monday.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Lam Kwok-lap for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.