A group of over 30 Chinese taxi drivers ingested pesticides and laid down in the middle of a shopping street in Beijing this weekend to protest the government’s restrictive rules on taxi leasing. The group had traveled to the capital from the northern Chinese city of Suifenhe, near China’s border with Russia, which has been hit by slowdown the neighboring countries’ economies. According to Beijing police, the drivers were taken to local hospitals and in the end no one was seriously injured (link in Chinese).
The Suifenhe drivers are protesting a rule found in most Chinese cities that requires all cabs be leased through government-approved operators—usually a handful of state-owned companies. These taxi operators maintain a monopoly over the industry, charging the drivers high deposits and monthly leases that can be raised arbitrarily, according the Hong Kong-based nonprofit, China Labour Bulletin. The driver foots all fuel and maintenance costs.
The attempted suicide pact is yet more evidence of mounting discontent among Chinese taxi drivers. Protests erupted across the country earlier this year as they demonstrated against high franchise fees that they say make it difficult to compete against private drivers using taxi sharing apps like Didi Dache and Kuadi Dache, which are backed by major Chinese internet companies.
As Quartz has reported, drivers often say they have to work over-12-hour days in order to pay these fees and still earn a living. In Beijing, cab drivers pay monthly leasing fees of about 4,000 yuan ($645)—nearly as much as their average monthly income of 4,700 yuan in 2013. According to supporters of the taxi drivers in Suifenhe, the local government began requiring all taxi operators use Shanghai Volkswagen’s Skoda in 2011 at a cost of about 125,000 yuan, which drivers said they could only pay off after eight years.
Photos and videos circulated on Chinese social media, earning the sympathy of observers. Most posts have now been censored, but some discussion threads and comments remain. One weibo user said, “At what point did we have to start relying on death to get attention to our rights?” Another, quoting Chinese war strategist and philosopher Lao Tse, wrote, “The people do not fear death.”