June 12, 2018 / 8:38 AM / 6 months ago

Chinese truckers demonstrate over high fuel costs, truck-hailing app Manbang

SHANGHAI/BEIJING, June 12 (Reuters) - Chinese truck drivers are demonstrating against higher fuel costs and the dominance of local truck hire platform Manbang which they said is squeezing incomes, a potential headache for the firm backed by SoftBank Group Corp and Alphabet Inc.

Since late last week, demonstrations by truck drivers have been seen in over a dozen locations around China, according to Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, which tracks labour action in mainland China. On social media, photos and videos circulated showing long lines of parked trucks adorned with banners.

The demonstrations come as oil prices hit their highest level since 2014 in recent weeks, scraping $80 per barrel and stoking cost increases for businesses and consumers, especially in large oil-importing nations such as China.

The truck drivers also cited a squeeze on haulage rates due to the dominance of Manbang, formally known as Full Truck Alliance Group. Manbang raised $1.9 billion in April from Japan’s Softbank and Alphabet’s venture capital fund CapitalG.

The firm is often described as China’s “Uber for trucks”, in reference to U.S. ride-hailing firm Uber Technologies Inc . It runs an app that allows companies to connect with truck drivers - often independent contractors - tapping into demand for haulage in one of the world’s busiest markets for goods transport.

China Labour Bulletin said that earlier in June, Manbang implemented a policy to prevent registered truck drivers and customers from contacting each other directly, to ensure transactions and haulage rates were set only via the app.

Manbang, formed in a merger of haulage platforms Yun Man Man and Huo Che Bang, did not respond to requests for comment. The firm in April said 5.2 million of China’s 7 million freight trucks were members of the Full Truck Alliance Group.

Demonstrations were recorded in provinces including Shandong, Sichuan, Chongqing, Anhui, Guizhou, Jiangxi, Shanghai, Hubei, Henan and Zhejiang, the labour monitor said.

Banners featured slogans such as “boycott low prices” and “truckers all rise”. There were also messages threatening violence toward truck drivers who did not strike.

So far, there have been no reports of any significant impact from the demonstrations.

China’s truckers are not alone. On Sunday, drivers in Bosnia blocked roads to demonstrate against rising fuel prices.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan and Pei Li Editing by Christopher Cushing

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