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
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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