Residents in Bazhong City, Sichuan province woke up Wednesday morning, ate breakfast, left home and waited for the bus. And waited. But the buses never came.
Prompted by low pay and long working hours, the drivers had suddenly gone on strike. "Our salary is about 1,000 yuan a month," said Lu Quan, 38, one of more than 120 drivers in the Bazhong Bus Company. "It is half of what our peers make in neighboring cities." He complained about long working hours, sometimes 6 am to 10 pm.
All drivers on the morning shift took part in the wildcat strike without giving notice to the company, said Wu Lianming, an operation department manager. The strike lasted from 6:30 am to 12:10 am.
Workers returned to their posts after the municipal government agreed to negotiate a pay increase. The salary will be based on the pay level in neighboring cities - numbers that workers' representatives will research in two weeks.
It is not the first time the bus company has had a confrontation with its workers. In May 2007, drivers displeased with working hours and pay went on strike. Their salary was raised but not significantly. "We've brought this up many times," Lu said. "No one listened."
Asked whether the strike will help solve their problems, Lu said: "Imagine the whole city has no buses. The strike is the only way to grab their attention. "
People were left standing at bus stops and many ended up walking to work or school as taxis were in high demand.
The city's sole bus operation was taken over by a privately owned company from Zhejiang province in 2006. Fewer passengers in the mountainous city have generated a thin profit in recent years, said Wu.
Bus drivers' strikes are rare in the country. Last year, taxi drivers in Chongqing municipality went on strike to protest harsh traffic rules, long working hours, low pay and competition from illegal taxis.