HONG KONG—Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hubei are scrambling to mediate a strike by taxi drivers, the latest in a string of industrial disputes to sweep China amid the global financial crisis.
Hundreds of taxi drivers entered the second day of a strike in Suizhou city over increased business costs.
“There is a new municipal government rule which requires each driver to pay a fee of 4,000 yuan (about U.S. $500)," a cab driver surnamed Zhang said.
Failure to do so by the end of the year would result in the confiscation of taxi licenses, she added.
Suizhou taxi drivers say they are currently making only about 100 yuan (U.S.$12) a day, and the new charge will virtually wipe out any profit. Talks between the drivers and city traffic management last week failed to reach a resolution.
Few taxis were visible on the streets of Suizhou Tuesday, as hundreds of taxi drivers gathered at the city's railway station to petition the government. Drivers say one of their number was detained by the authorities.
A staff member who answered the phone at the Suizhou municipal government refused to comment on the strike. But an official with the municipal transportation bureau, which oversees taxi operations, said the authorities were "taking care of the situation."
A cab driver surnamed Chen said: "Currently there are about 400 to 500 drivers gathering at the railway station to voice our grievances, and we have sent several representatives to talk to the government."
He said negotiations with city officials over abolishing the new fee had so far not yielded any positive results.
"We have demanded that they follow the guidelines announced by central government, but no deal has been reached in the talks," he said.
"We will see what happens tomorrow." Drivers say the central government in Beijing has requested a ban on further fees levied on taxi drivers by local authorities.
Vow to continue
Chen said the drivers would continue to strike if the government refused to accede to their demands.
Labor rights activist Liu Feiyue, currently in Suizhou, said: "There's not a single cab running on the streets of Suizhou now."
The Suizhou dispute follows similar strikes by taxi drivers in Chongqing, Sanya, Maoming, Yongfeng, Shantou, and Maoming, in which drivers complained of illegal competition, excessive fees, local government monopolies, and threats to their personal safety.
Chinese scholar Ling Cangzhou said the cab strikes revealed a systemic problem.
"Our country needs order, but order and stability must be based on the well-coordinated harmony of all interest groups," Ling said.
"Chinese workers are now defending their rights, and this is long overdue."
Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long and He Ping. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Chen Ping and Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.