ABU DHABI // Nearly 200 taxi drivers turned up at the Labour Court yesterday as their pay protests rolled into a fourth day.
Their action was spurred by dismissal of seven of their colleagues, five of whom were last night on their way back to Pakistan.
However, Tawasul, their employers, insisted it was within its rights to change the drivers' salary structure, which it said did not amount to a cut in pay. It accused the sacked seven of being violent troublemakers.
The dispute started last week, when Tawasul posted its new salary structure.
Drivers said they were pressured to sign an agreement to the new scheme. However, Abdullah Kassab, Tawasul's general manager, said the company had not asked them to sign anything.
Nor, he said, had it needed to, since their employment contracts included a clause allowing the company to change the commission scheme as it saw fit.
"It is mentioned in the contract that the commission is subject to change," he said. "There was absolutely no request to any person in the company to sign a new contract."
He said the change, approved by the taxi regulator, TransAd, was a response to changing market conditions, and followed an increase in the taxi meter rate that meant drivers' take-home pay would be broadly unaffected.
Since the meter rate was increased in August, he said, the company had found drivers less keen to work towards the end of the month because they were reaching their monthly targets sooner.
That in turn, he said, was making it hard to hit TransAd's requirement that 90 per cent of the fleet should be on the road at all times.
"About 20 per cent of my services in the market drop towards the end of the month. The drivers say 'I've reached my target, thank you very much, I don't need work any more' and that's it," he said.
"As such, TransAd sent me a statement that my service has dropped by 40 per cent in the past three months and that there would be a penalty."
However, Mohammed Farhan, from Pakistan, chose to quit instead of accepting the change, and said nearly 50 others would do likewise.
Ansar Maqsoon accused the company of heavy-handed treatment of the sacked seven, who had been representing the drivers at the Labour Court. "There are 500 drivers who face this problem. Terminate all of us," he said. "They are trying to scare us."
However, Mr Kassab said the seven had been fired after trying to keep other drivers from work by force. "Two or three of these group of people have been involved in fights with other drivers where they actually stopped [the drivers] from coming to work and threatened their well-being," he said. "I'm protecting the well-being of the company as well as the drivers."
The fight for the sacked Pakistanis ended when the men returned to their labour camp from court, met by an officer from Tawasul who ordered them to pack up for home.