x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Mass strike by Sharjah taxi drivers

Some 2,000 taxi drivers in the emirate have gone in strike, crowding the Ministry of Labour offices and paralysing local transport, amid a growing dispute over fuel surcharges.

Taxi drives in Sharjah hold protests near the Ministry of Labour office.
Taxi drives in Sharjah hold protests near the Ministry of Labour office.

SHARJAH // About 2,000 taxi drivers went on strike yesterday, crowding the Ministry of Labour offices and paralysing local transport amid an ongoing dispute over fuel surcharges.

The drivers, comprising more than 40 per cent of the emirate’s total, continued to protest a Sharjah Transport Corporation (STC) rule that requires them to pay 0.52 fils in petrol costs for every kilometre travelled.

They were also protesting delays in processing resignation papers, which they say is a bid to keep them at work. Hundreds of drivers quit their jobs as part of a labour action earlier this month, and at least 600 reportedly resigned yesterday amid claims wages were being withheld.

“We have always been given only our monthly commission,” said Ali Hossain of Citi Taxi, one of four Sharjah firms that fall under the STC umbrella. “In our agreement we were to get our basic salary once we leave the company and this would be some good money for people like me.” Mr Hossain is also taking the company to court for allegedly not paying him Dh18,000 in basic salary.

A spokesman for Citi Taxi said that the ministry had summoned all taxi managers to find ways of solving the crisis. The ministry initially told the drivers gathered before its offices yesterday that it would not intervene in the situation. The taxi company viewed the strike and the accompanying driver exodus with some alarm.

“We are concerned about the resignations,” the Citi Taxi spokesman said. “Nothing like this has happened before.”

The emirate has 4,860 licenced taxi drivers.

In a written response, STC said that the working terms of all drivers and their franchised companies were determined by the UAE labour code.

“It is every driver’s right to go to the Ministry of Labour and seek justice if they believe their working rights are being violated,” the statement said. STC was ready to implement any recommendations from the ministry to address the complaints, it said.

Ministry authorities advised the drivers on its doorstep to return the taxis to their companies if they planned to resign, and limited entrance to the building to avoid a huge influx of people.
“Only 20 drivers would be allowed to enter the Ministry of Labour to hand in their resignations at a time,” a ministry official told the throng. “Please try to be disciplined and orderly as we cannot serve all of you at once.”

After the official addressed the crowd of drivers, police started dispersing them with a warning that they would be issuing fines for those who remained in the ministry’s car park. About 400 taxis were returned to Advantage Taxis and 200 at Citi Taxi, with all the drivers saying they had resigned.

A ministry spokesman said the fuel surcharge was universal to all taxi companies in the emirates, and that drivers in Sharjah were taking their protest too far.

“Even in Ajman and Fujairah they are following the same rule,” he said. “The drivers here are taking it too personal, some drivers are enticing them to keep on striking.”

The petrol fee is not popular in other emirates, either. Drivers in Ras al Khaimah have walked off the job repeatedly in protest against the regulation, which they say violates the terms of a recent contract agreement.

While most drivers at the protest were there voluntarily, some said their colleagues were forcing them to join the strike.  Majol Khan of Union Taxi was among them, and he voiced concern about the tactic.

“I want to go and work but some drivers have threatened to take action against anyone who works today,” he said. “ I don’t know what they will do but still I don’t want to take risks so I decided to join them here.”

While he said he does not feel the surcharge is fair, and empathises with those who resigned, Mr Khan said he had so many problems at the moment that he could not afford to be unemployed for even a month.

His financial situation was mirrored by that of Arbali Ali of Citi Taxi, who said he could not withstand the extra costs on a Dh1,400 monthly income. “I can get the same money in Pakistan with less stress and with some family comfort,” he said.”