x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Taxis return to roads after stoppage

Drivers return to work after a half-day work stoppage following assurances their demands would be heard.

Taxi drivers park their cars in protest in front of the Dubai Taxi Agency main office.
Taxi drivers park their cars in protest in front of the Dubai Taxi Agency main office.

DUBAI // Taxi drivers in Dubai returned to work today after a half-day work stoppage following assurances their demands would be heard. Shortly before 5am, when shifts were due to start, drivers from the Dubai Taxi Agency parked their vehicles at the main office and refused to work until discussions were held. They were protesting against a penalty system they claimed imposed unfair fines on them for various infractions. The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) agreed to meet the drivers on Monday for talks. One driver, who asked not to be named, said: "There are several issues, but the main problem is the fines that are put on us for not lifting customers. These fines are imposed so often that we eventually lose more than half our salary. The fines start from Dh100 (US$27.22) for not taking the passengers who call for taxis." Abdul Aziz Malek, the chief executive of Dubai Taxi Agency, said it would not compromise on matters related to drivers' adherence to regulations and internal policies. He added that all drivers signed an agreement before taking up positions with the company. "Achieving satisfaction of our customers of taxi passengers is a key indicator to judging the quality of services rendered by Dubai Taxi," Mr Malek said. "We will not tolerate any driver in breach of the General Quality Code applicable to drivers of Dubai Taxi and franchise companies because we are here to provide excellent services to customers." It is unclear how many drivers took part in the work stoppage. Drivers claimed that more than 1,000 employees stayed off the roads. Ammar bin Tamim, director of Dubai Taxi, said the figure was closer to 150 or 200, while an official RTA statement said just 50 drivers participated. Early morning commuters faced minor disruptions as they tried to catch taxis. Duncan Rowe, 26, an IT consultant, waited four times longer than usual for his taxi at the Arabian Ranches. "I always order a taxi by telephone at about 7am to take me to Media City, and it usually takes about 10 minutes," said Mr Rowe yesterday. "But this morning, I waited a good 40 minutes, which is very unusual - it's never taken that long before. It could be just a coincidence, of course, but it seems funny it happened on the same day as the strike." Nina Cortes, 49, had difficulty hailing a taxi outside Jumeirah Beach Residences about 8am. "I normally come straight out of the apartment and find a cab pretty much immediately, but today I had to walk around for a few minutes before I found one." The action by drivers followed complaints that too much money is deducted from their monthly salaries for infringements of company regulations. A driver from Pakistan said he was once fined Dh2,700 for a traffic accident that was not his fault, and that left him with just Dh1,300 for the month. "Every month I have to keep Dh1,000 for myself and send the rest to my family, which should be about Dh3,000 for them if I work seven days a week, 12 hours a day," he said. "Imagine how I felt having to send them just Dh300 that month through no fault of my own. Another time I was fined several hundred dirhams for speeding, when at the time I was supposed to have been speeding my car was parked at the kerb. When we complain, the company just have the attitude that we can leave if we want to." Dubai Taxi drivers work on commission and have to make Dh370 every day. At the end of the month workers are paid 35 per cent of what they collect. But drivers say they must pay all expenses - including housing, food and traffic fines - from their own pockets. "We even pay Dh300 for our uniforms," said one driver. Another driver said: "Many of us have decided to resign and return to our countries. There is no point working under such circumstances." The drivers returned to work about midday, after management held discussions with representatives of the drivers. The drivers are optimistic about the talks, but warn they will continue their protest if matters are not resolved. "We have been assured that it would be discussed on Monday. However, if there is no improvement then we will strike again," said a driver. Mr Malek said the RTA had always met the drivers' requirements, including accommodation, health insurance and annual bonuses. "Distinguished drivers are rewarded and a Drivers Council has been set up to co-ordinate the requirements of drivers and interact with the agency officials. Therefore, we expect all concerned individuals to abide by the rules and regulations. Should any party have certain demands, they can be viewed through the applicable channels in the agency." @email:arichardson@thenational.ae @email:pmenon@thenational.ae