China’s truck drivers on strike again in protest at government emissions policy

Several major cities and provinces in China have banned trucks with dangerously high exhaust emissions in a bid to tackle air pollution during the winter months. A notice issued by the Jiangsu provincial government, for example, identified diesel trucks as the major cause of air pollution in the region and said that tough restrictions on China 3 and China 4 standard diesel trucks were necessary in order to defend the blue sky.

While many drivers agree that measures have to be taken to combat air pollution, they point out that the new measures place all the burden on them, with no assistance offered by the government. After the bans were introduced in November, drivers experienced a sharp drop in income and were quick to respond by staging strikes and protests in several different cities.  It was the second time this year that truck drivers had organized widespread protests, the first being the nationwide drivers’ strike in June this year over rising costs and declining incomes.

It is important to note that it is the rapid growth of e-commerce in China that has led to the higher number of polluting trucks on the road and yet the government has not forced major corporations such as JD.com and Alibaba to take measures to protect the environment. Placing all the responsibility for environmental protection on individual truckers is short-sighted and unrealistic. It also highlights the need for China’s trade union to ensure that drivers’ interests are protected during the environmental policy-making process. And just as importantly, the union needs to engage in collective bargaining with major logistics companies to make sure drivers can earn a decent living without having to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Xi’an truck drivers challenge new rules

Hundreds of truck drivers in the northern city of Xi’an went on strike on 9 November protesting new government regulations that banned China 3 and 4 diesel trucks from the city’s third ring road during the daytime.

Since most of Xi’an’s logistics stations, shopping malls and construction sites are located inside the third ring road, the ban effectively prevents truck drivers from working during the day. Some drivers told local media that they had already spent nearly 100,000 yuan to purchase their current vehicle and said that buying a new truck would be impossible given the minimal amount they could get for their old vehicle.

It is estimated that around 85 percent of Xi’an’s truck drivers participated in the strike as well as drivers from nearby towns. Their protests, staged at the traffic police bureau and the municipal government building in Xi’an, gained widespread support on social media. The government was eventually forced to withdraw the policy, and drivers can now obtain permits to enter the city’s third ring road regardless of their vehicle’s diesel standard.

Zhengzhou drivers face-off against riot police

Truck drivers in Zhengzhou staged a mass protest on 26 November after government regulations, announced a few days earlier, imposed a strict ban on all China 3 trucks. The owners of China 4 trucks were given some space to operate but had to upgrade their vehicle’s pollution control systems.

Many of the owners of China 3 trucks said they had already paid in full for their trucks, which were now worthless because they were essentially out of a job. Other drivers complained that they could no longer deliver goods on time to companies in Zhengzhou because the government restricted them to entering the city on every other day.

Significantly, the drivers chose to stage their protest at the central plaza commemorating the bloody suppression of the train drivers’ strike on 7 February, 1923. Riot police seized banners and reportedly beat some the drivers when they attempted to break through police lines. This time, the drivers did not force the government to reverse its policy but rather, in an echo of 1923, they were beaten back by police.

Back to Top

The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect on 25 May 2018. Please see our updated privacy policy to understand what data is collected from our website visitors and newsletter subscribers, how it is used and the rights you have to correct or remove that data.