RAS AL KHAIMAH // A group of taxi drivers have held a protest meeting in a dispute with their employer about fuel costs.
The drivers, all employees of Al Hamra Taxi, say that to reach their monthly fare target of Dh8,250, which entitles them to a 30 per cent commission, they are forced to exceed their monthly fuel allowance. They also say that, rather than increasing their allowance to reflect recent rises in the price of petrol, the company has reduced it to Dh2,000 from Dh2,450.
Al Hamra Taxi officials deny both claims. It says the monthly fuel allowance remains at Dh2,450, and that drivers who need additional money are driving inefficiently, driving taxis for personal use or operating discount-rate taxi services using company fuel. The issue came to a head on Monday when 25 drivers who were near the end of their fuel allowance but had not reached their fare targets were told to buy their own fuel. If they refused, the company said it would confiscate their car keys and fuel-allowance cards.
Drivers were reluctant to give up their keys because they had only a few remaining days to meet the monthly target. Others say they had no extra money for fuel. Sixteen of the 25 suspended drivers had their keys returned after being trained to drive more efficiently. Al Hamra said the remaining nine required further training. About 100 drivers met at the Al Hamra office on Monday night to discuss the problem.
"Today they told us to hand over our card and key," a 36-year-old driver from Bangladesh said. "They said if we want to refuel we must use our own money. What is this? Dh2,500 for fuel is enough, but Dh2,000 is not." A 32-year-old driver from Pakistan said: "Ninety per cent of my card is finished and now the manager told us to use our own money, but we have no pocket money. "The salary is better than before but when petrol prices were raised it became a problem."
Another driver said, "Today I had over Dh7,400. In four days it is not difficult to make it up to the Dh8,000 target, but my Dh2,000 petrol is finished and they took my car." Some drivers said they were prepared to pay for fuel themselves to reach their target, even if they faced a fine for not reporting to the cab station at the end of the day. "Yesterday my petrol is finished, but today I did not give the company money," one said. "I am afraid they will take my car if they see my petrol is finished."
One driver from Sri Lanka then said, "If I pay for my petrol, how will I manage? How it is possible? How will my children study?" The drivers say they use between Dh80 and Dh105 of fuel a day, and work upwards of 14 hours a day to reach their goals. "RAK is small and not a big city, so we allow them Dh80.50 for a day," said Abdi Ahmed, the senior manager of Al Hamra Taxi. "We are going to give them training on how to use the petrol and how to do the job. So the company will not lose, the driver will not lose, and he will do it the proper way."
The Ras Al Khaimah Transport Authority (Rakta) estimates that one in five drivers use company fuel to commute to their homes outside of the emirate. Rakta has plans to build low-cost accommodation for drivers in RAK city. Rakta officials also say drivers had taken advantage of a four-month delay in the introduction of a rural-area bus service to operate taxis at discount fares using company fuel. Although the number of illegal taxis has dropped by almost 30 per cent this year, 10 of the 25 suspended drivers were transporting passengers illegally, Rakta officials said. To discourage this, a third of the emirate's 1,200 taxis will be fitted with sensors that activate meters automatically.