x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

RAK taxi drivers weigh up new contracts

Better pay, emergency leave and full health care are expected to be part of all taxi drivers' contracts in the emirate from early next year.

Ras al Khaimah taxi drivers can look forward to better pay and full healthcare under new contracts.
Ras al Khaimah taxi drivers can look forward to better pay and full healthcare under new contracts.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Better pay, emergency leave and full health care are expected to be part of all taxi drivers' contracts in the emirate from early next year. The proposed amendments come after a tumultuous year for the RAK Transport Authority, following two strikes and discussions with drivers from Al Hamra and Cars Taxi in the spring and autumn. The contracts must be approved by Cars Taxi, Al Hamra Taxi and Al Arabiya Taxi and then drivers will have 10 days to provide input and accept or reject the new contract.

If the drivers reject the contract, it is expected that there will be further negotiations between drivers and the companies. "We are going to give it to all of the drivers to read it and understand it," said Jason Farhat, the authority's director of commercial and investment affairs. "All of the drivers have to accept the terms and conditions and if they have any points that they need to discuss we are open for that."

The proposed contract is a response to issues raised at the protests, including a lack of medical insurance and emergency leave for medical reasons and family crises. Drivers will also be given booklets in Arabic, English and Urdu that set out their rights and clarify the reasons for fines. Currently, many drivers complain that they spend hundreds of dirhams each month on fines levied without explanation. If accepted, the contract would also formalise a 25 per cent commission for all drivers, a significant wage increase for many drivers that was first implemented after protests in June.

Previously, drivers earned a base salary of Dh500 (US$136) and a commission of 10 to 30 per cent. Most drivers now earn between Dh1,500 and Dh3,000 a month on commission but no longer receive a base salary. Many drivers are still demanding a 30 per cent commission in addition to reinstating the base salary of Dh500. "If we could have salary and a commission this is a better solution," said a 39-year-old Bangladeshi driver for Al Hamra who asked not to be named. "You know I am working 18 hours [a day] but there's not much money because the labourers have no money and there's no foreign customers in Ras al Khaimah."

Many drivers say that accidents are caused because they are so fatigued from working long shifts but that they cannot afford to work fewer hours. A guaranteed salary would allow drivers to take one day off each week so they could rest, they say. "We work more than 14 hours, 15 hours, 16 hours [a day]," said an Indian driver from Al Hamra. "We have no sleep. "We try to work from 6.30 until 10.30 at the night and this causes a lot of accidents because we fall asleep at the road."

It also remains to be seen whether the new contracts will provide drivers with full UAE licenses. Many drivers use provisional licenses that are not considered official ID. Others complain that they have passed their test and paid for licenses but have yet to receive them. None of the taxi companies was available for comment. @Email:azacharias@thenational.ae