x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Taxi drivers refuse to sign new contracts in dispute over fuel costs

RAK drivers say wages will be lower if they must pay for petrol, and complain they were told to sign contracts they could not understand.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Taxi drivers in Ras al Khaimah are refusing to sign new contracts after 11 months of negotiations because of a dispute over fuel costs. Talks between cab companies, drivers and the RAK Transport Authority (Rakta) had yielded an agreement validating a 25 per cent commission structure in place since last June. Drivers who earn more than Dh275 a day will receive 30 per cent commission.

However, drivers will no longer be fully reimbursed for petrol and instead will get Dh17 in fuel money for every Dh100 earned. While Rakta has said that drivers who can show that their fuel was used for work purposes will be fully reimbursed, drivers are concerned that their take-home wages will decrease if they have to use their own money to pay for petrol. A Bangladeshi driver who refused to sign said: "The commission is a little better but the new contract has too many problems.

"The old contract did not have these conditions. I don't know what the company will do with me. I want to work here with this company and finish the three years on my first agreement." Rakta and two of RAK's three taxi companies were not available for comment. A spokesman for Arabia Taxi said 80 to 85 per cent of drivers had signed the contracts and it expected the rest to do so by the end of the week.

The typical driver earns about Dh1,500 a month and must pay his living expenses. Some have as much as 30 per cent of their monthly salary withheld for so-called "training expenses" and miscellaneous fees which, they say, are not explained to them. Some drivers said they were pressured to sign contracts they could not understand. Many said they were shouted at and grabbed by men supervising the signing, and no translations were provided.

A 47-year-old driver from Dhaka said: "Yesterday they called me to sign. I think it's very bad, but everything was in English. I don't know what was in the writing. He didn't give us the chance to read. He said, 'you can't take a copy.'" Another Bangladeshi driver said he spent Dh700 of his Dh1,250 average monthly earnings on food and would not have enough money to pay for fuel. "So many drivers are not giving their signatures," he said. "Why do we have to pay gasoline money? I spend Dh70 and more [on petrol] for one day. They said Dh55 is enough, but how?

"I signed. Now I'm thinking I made a very big mistake. With my accommodation money and my food, how will I pay? I'll go." @Email:azacharias@thenational.ae