Shanghai offers fee cuts to defuse drivers' strike at port

By @ibtimes on

The government of the Chinese city of Shanghai is cutting some fees to defuse striking truck drivers' anger over high fuel prices, an official spokesman said Saturday, after days of confrontation earlier this week disrupted the world's busiest port.

The Shanghai government's promised steps, which include lowering standard fees and removing non-standard fees, came after the strike made global headlines amid worries the strike could disrupt trade flows in China's biggest commercial hub.

Shanghai is actively taking measures to respond to the strike, the official Xinhua news agency reported early on Saturday, citing an unidentified Shanghai government spokesman.

All ports in Shanghai were operating normally, the spokesman added.

Separately, the Shanghai Municipal Transport and Port Authority said Saturday it would cancel certain fees, such as fuel surcharge, while lowering a few other fees for the container road transport sector.

The new measures, which also specified how certain fees should be charged and promised help to companies facing operational difficulties, were aimed at easing rising inflation and cost pressures on transport companies, the port authority said in a statement on its website (http://www.jt.sh.cn/index.html),

without mentioning the strike by the truck drivers.

Up to now, Shanghai officials have not commented publicly about the strike, a boldly public demonstration of anger over rising consumer prices and fuel price increases in China.

The Xinhua report about the Shanghai government's steps was in English, and China's tightly controlled state media has otherwise made scant mention of the unrest.

Friday, a crowd of about 600 people milled about outside an office of a logistics company near the Baoshan Port, one of the city's string of ports. Some threw rocks at trucks whose drivers had not joined the strike, breaking the windows of at least one truck.

STRIKE STILL ON

The situation appeared calm in the Baoshan area on Saturday, with no organized activity by the drivers and only a small security presence.

Some drivers said they had heard about the city government's offers while many complained they did not have enough information and vowed to continue the strike unless concrete results were achieved in negotiations with the authorities.

There is still a strike on. There are supposed to be organizers in talks but I won't believe it until I have the money in my hand, one driver from Henan province who wouldn't give his name, said.

If I earn 10 yuan, and it costs me 11, what's the point? he said.

Another driver named Li said he was confident that the government would have to take measures to resolve the situation.

If the situation doesn't change there won't be any truck drivers left here. We'll all go back and find other jobs, he said.

It's not that I'm striking. I just can't continue to do a job where I end up losing money, he said.

Authorities would meet representatives of the truck drivers Monday for talks aimed at ending the strike, a policeman told the striking drivers Friday when security officers tried to disperse the crowd.

Text messages containing threats of violence against drivers who do not take part in the strike were still circulating among drivers Saturday.

The government is struggling to contain inflation, which hit 5.4 percent in March, magnifying the ruling Communist Party's long-standing jitters about the potential for public resentment over prices, taxes and fees to escalate into protest.

The Party leadership is especially jumpy about threats to social stability following online calls for Jasmine Revolution protests inspired by anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world, and has detained dozens of dissidents.

Many of the strikers at the ports in Shanghai are independent contractors who haul goods to and from the port, and they have demanded that the government do something about rising fuel costs and what some called high fees charged by transport firms.

(Writing by Chris Buckley in Beijing and Soo Ai Peng in Shanghai; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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