SHARJAH // Hundreds of taxi drivers have gone on strike in protest against a new rule that requires them to pay fuel costs.
The regulation from the Sharjah Transport Corporation (STC) would call for taxi drivers to pay 0.52 fils for every kilometre travelled, which some said would cost them almost half their monthly income. About 800 drivers gathered yesterday at the Ministry of Labour office in the emirate to protest against the move and 50 have reportedly cancelled their contracts.
"This is not justice," said Mir Zahid Mohammed, a driver who works for the Union Taxi firm. "Someone who was earning Dh2,700 a month would earn Dh1,400 now."
The struggle to deal with higher petrol costs, which rose 14 per cent in July in the second increase in three months, has caused taxi labour problems elsewhere in the Emirates. Ras al Khaimah drivers have twice come out on strike against a proposal to raise the amount they pay for fuel, which, they say, violates their new labour agreement.
Drivers from Citi Taxi started the stoppage on Monday just hours after the new rule was announced. Colleagues from Sharjah's other four taxi firms joined in yesterday. A spokesman for the labour ministry office in Sharjah said STC had been asked to solve the problem as quickly as possible. "We want them [drivers] to leave this place now to give parking to other people with other problems," he said.
Throngs of people could be seen on the emirate's roadsides desperately hailing taxis that would not pick them up. Among them was Umm Aisha, a mother of two who waited more than an hour for a cab to take her one-year-old daughter home from the hospital.
"The problem is that there are many taxis passing but no one is stopping," she said. "I have to call my husband to come from Dubai and take us home now."
Some drivers resumed work from 2pm, although they remained unhappy about the new regulation. Shahada Abedin, who works for Advantage Taxi, questioned the move and said it only worsened the already difficult business of driving for a living.
"Taxi company owners only think of themselves," he said. "The increased fuel prices affected all other business but, for them, they want to use it as a chance to make more profits."
For others, the new rule brought previous grievances into a new light. Mr Mir produced two receipts showing pay deductions of Dh600 to fix a scratch on his car and Dh50 for failing to hand in his daily income by the company-imposed deadline. He said he could not survive on a salary of less than Dh2,000, with which he had to pay rent, food, traffic fines and car washing.
"What kind of people are they, that want to take away everything they give us," he said.
"They would like to double almost every profit they are getting with our suffering."
Perhaps the most telling driver reaction came from Noor Habib, who works for Union Taxi, as he picked up his first passenger of the day from the Millennium Hotel at about 2.30pm.
"I know nothing would change even if we strike for the whole week," he said. "It's better to look for a job while you are working somewhere than leaving this job and go around begging for food."