Months of unpaid wages spark strikes by delivery drivers across China Lily Zhao 1 November 2020 Express delivery workers in many cities across China have been engaged in work stoppages to protest their unpaid wages. The wave of strikes involves workers from at least five major express delivery companies in China, including: ZTO Express, Yunda Express, STO Express Co, YTO Express Group Co, and Baishi. Delivery workers’ protests are a response to the restructuring carried out by the delivery companies, which have cut their operating costs to boost profits and have led to non-payment of labor. The owners have slashed payments to local delivery stations, where delivery workers are actually employed. Package delivery is a huge and rapidly developing industry in China, connected to the fast expansion of the e-commerce market. There is a dense national network that covers 97 percent of the towns and villages across the country. In 2019 alone, more than 60 billion packages were delivered. At one end of this lucrative industry stand the big delivery companies, investors and their connections in the state apparatus. Among the five companies, the most profitable one, ZTO Express, had a net profit of 5.2 billion RMB (about $743 million) in 2019, while the other four also had net profits on the same order of magnitude. Behind them, Alibaba, which is based on ecommerce and is heavily dependent on the courier industry, is a major shareholder in all five companies and made a hundred times more profit than them last year. The founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, is the second wealthiest man in China, as well as a member of the Chinese Communist Party. In 2018, he received a medal of “a pioneer of reform” from the Communist Party for “making outstanding contributions to the market reform.” At the other end, stand millions of workers who are employed in this industry, largely as contractors. They ride on bikes or electric bikes and are estimated to handle several hundred packages a day. Their working conditions were dreadful even before the pandemic. According to a survey published by the State Post Bureau in 2019, 75 percent of delivery workers earned less than 5000 RMB (about $700) per month; at least 60 percent of them have less than 2 days off every month; 53 percent work for longer than 10 hours a day. As a result of the pandemic, the average wage has dropped by about a third. Some workers said they now earn as little as 0.25 RMB ($0.04) per package. Not being paid one or more months wages greatly exacerbates their precarious conditions.

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