x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

RAK taxi drivers protest over low pay

About 100 taxi drivers force an emergency meeting with the emirate's transport authority following a heated protest over pay and conditions.

Drivers from AL Hamra Taxi and Cars Taxi gather near Manar Mall in Ras al Khaimah.
Drivers from AL Hamra Taxi and Cars Taxi gather near Manar Mall in Ras al Khaimah.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // About 100 taxi drivers forced an emergency meeting with the emirate's transport authority yesterday following a heated protest over drivers' pay and conditions. Drivers from the companies Al Hamra Taxi and Cars Taxi gathered near Manar Mall throughout the morning and early afternoon to demonstrate. About half of them signed a petition listing a series of demands over basic pay and commissions.

Following the protest, officials at the RAK Transport Authority said they would hold further talks next week. "The problem is finished and we will have a meeting with the people on Sunday," said Col Nasser Muradad, director of the RAK Traffic and Licensing Department and chair of the RAK Transport Authority. Many drivers said there were not enough customers in RAK to support its new taxi fleet, which will total 1,600 by the end of the year.

"Everyone is working 18 hours, 20 hours [a day] but if we will not work that much we would have no money," said Shair Afser, 30, from Pakistan. "No one sleeps so there are accidents. There is no day off." Representatives from Al Hamra Taxi and Cars Taxi met with two of the drivers to hear complaints. After the meeting the drivers stood on a lorry to announce that the managers would consider their requests and make a decision by Sunday.

"Somebody thinks if we make a gathering maybe we'll be sent home," said one protester who sold half his land in Bangladesh to cover visa expenses. "If we're sent home, no problem. Everybody is hungry." In the petition, there are four key demands: A guaranteed commission of 30 per cent. Currently, drivers earn a base salary of Dh500 (US$140) and a commission of 10 to 30 per cent of their monthly fares. The commission is a sliding scale based on how much they collect in fares. Most drivers take home between Dh1,000 and Dh1,500 per month. Drivers who collect less than Dh4,470 a month in fares are not guaranteed a basic salary.

Emergency leave for medical reasons and family emergencies. Mohammed Afzal, a Pakistani driver, said he was denied leave after his brother and wife died in Pakistan. Mostaq, also from Pakistan, said he waited more than two weeks for permission to go to his brother's funeral before giving up. Drivers want full UAE drivers licenses. Currently, many drivers are given only provisional licenses that cannot be used as ID.

Shair Afser, 30, from Pakistan, said: "We have no ID cards for the UAE because we are working for the Transport Authority. We have only a temporary licence, which is not enough for the bank." Drivers said they are often questioned by police who do not recognise their provisional licences. The Transport Authority limit fines. Drivers, who seldom earn above Dh2,000 per month, are often fined hundreds of dirhams each month by authorities and have to pay them themselves. Drivers would like laws clarified and fines reduced.

"This is a very big issue for all men," said Mr Afser. "I know one man went into the mosque to pray and there was no sign or marker and he took a fine. We don't have any parking for taxis in RAK." azacharias@thenational.ae