The online platform-based economy is emerging as a new focus of worker protests in China. In the latest incident, the sudden sacking of staff at second-hand car sales platform, RenRenChe, after the Lunar New Year holiday led to protests in at least six cities across the country. The above photograph shows the RenRenChe office in Chengdu plastered with workers’ demands for compensation.
The company, set up in 2014 and specializing in peer-to-peer car trading, laid off more than 1,000 staff on 17 February without any prior notice. It was widely reported on social media that the company was facing bankruptcy but management claimed the layoffs were simply part of a ‘restructuring plan’, and that staff could in future become partners in the business by buying cars from the company.
Few workers were impressed by the company’s offer. As one employee pointed out: “To put it bluntly, their plan is just to sell us cars. The company’s claim that there are no intermediaries in the platform [没有中间商的个人二手车网站] is now obviously fake.”
China’s new online ventures have been hailed as a key engine for boosting domestic consumption but it is becoming clear that the business model employed by many of these companies is flawed. Over the last year, CLB’s Strike Map has recorded numerous protests related to online platforms in logistics, car hailing services and even interior design. These companies expanded rapidly in order to increase their market share but all too often developed capital flow problems and collapsed, leaving employees out of a job and owed wages in arrears.
We expect more such protests to occur this year and urge China’s official trade union to pay attention to this increasingly serious problem and work harder to safeguard workers’ interests during the boom and bust cycle of these industries. The two protests by staff at RenRenChe in Beijing and Chengdu, outlined below, illustrate precisely the issues the union should be dealing with.