Taxi drivers take operators to court over earnings

Cabbies claim their contracts were changed after arriving in UAE, they earn less than they were promised and they have to pay for all crash repairs.

Abu Dhabi. 10th August 2008. An Abu Dhabi silver taxi in Muroor Rd. Stephen Lock  /  The National.  *** Local Caption ***  SL-taxi-005.jpgSL-taxi-005_2.jpg

ABU DHABI // More than 100 taxi drivers are taking their employers to court to complain about their wages and conditions. Drivers claim they have not been paid all the money owed to them, that they are made to pay the full cost to repair cars damaged in collisions and that they receive no holidays. The drivers, who work for Tawasul Transport and National Taxi, also claim the contracts they were asked to sign in Abu Dhabi are different from those they signed in their home countries.

Documents filed in Musaffah Labour Court say Tawasul has not paid drivers their full income and has charged drivers if they are involved in an accident. Tawasul representatives deny the claims. The company says it has "complied to fulfil all of its contractual duties". However, amid a crescendo of driver complaints about their contracts and welfare, the capital's taxi regulator said yesterday it was working to stop what it sees as a trend: cabbies leaving their visa sponsor after getting a driving licence. Mohammed al Hosani, manager of regulation and licensing for TransAD, the capital's taxi regulator, said the complaints by more than 100 taxi drivers are motivated by their desire to find work with another company for better pay.

He acknowledged that some drivers pay to come to Abu Dhabi, but he said companies invest up to Dh12,000 (US$3,300) to bring drivers to the emirate and get them on the road. "This practice [of complaints] is hurting the sector itself," he said. The drivers say their problems are serious and legitimate. From confusion over pay structure to holiday time, the drivers who work for Tawasul Transport and National Taxi, a franchise of Dubai Taxi Agency, say they are being treated unfairly.

Documents filed in Musaffah Labour Court are more explicit, alleging that Tawasul has not paid drivers their full income and charged them if they are involved in a crash. Tawasul denies the claims. It pays up to Dh1,750 for an at-fault crash and says it is complying with the law. "The complaint is not accurate and motivated to damage the reputation of the company," it said in a written response to the complaint filed in court. "To this point, the company has complied to fulfil all of its contractual duties." Mr al Hosani said TransAD has "justified" to the Ministry of Labour that the drivers' claims are not valid. Some Tawasul drivers also say they were asked to sign one agreement in their home country and another when they arrived in the UAE.

One driver says he was promised a "basic salary" of Dh1,000, after Dh650 during the two-month training period, and a nine-hour work day. But the form signed in the UAE, by the same driver, says the "basic salary" is Dh350 with another Dh300 in allowances for a total salary of Dh650 for a three-year period and an eight-hour working day. Both contracts have been seen by The National. Meanwhile, a document dated March 15 and addressed to the Ministry of Labour from 26 drivers at National Taxi alleges that workers have had to pay training fees, that drivers pay the cost of damage to the vehicle and that the drivers do not receive any holidays.

It could not be verified whether the complaints had been filed yet with the Labour Ministry in Al Qusais in Dubai, where the drivers say their visas were issued. National Taxi said it was not aware of that particular complaint against the company. "We don't like to continue this contract because we have taken too much hard feelings now," said one National driver, from Sri Lanka. All the drivers involved ask that they not be identified. Drivers at Tawasul say Dh1,000 of basic salary each month is not being paid. They say that the commissions they were promised, which range from 20 per cent to 30 per cent, were to be paid on top of the basic Dh1,000 salary. But TransAD said the drivers receive Dh1,000 if they gross less than Dh8,500. Once drivers pass the Dh8,500 threshold, they earn from 20 per cent to 30 per cent of their total monthly gross. The basic salary is considered part of their commission, TransAD said. This was agreed to by drivers in March 2009 after a 45-minute presentation, Tawasul said. Drivers also receive free housing in Musaffah. The structure has the approval of TransAD. "If you go to the financial records, it is clear," Mr al Hosani said. "They are getting Dh1,000 regardless. So this means they are getting their Dh1,000 basic salary." Abdallah aj Kassab, general manager of Tawasul, said that some drivers say they earn between Dh7,000 and Dh10,000, including tips, though the average is about Dh2,000 to Dh5,000, he said. A trip report for one day for a Tawasul driver showed that over a 15-hour period, including breaks, he grossed about Dh400; that would amount to about Dh12,000 in gross receipts for drivers who worked every day in a 30-day month. One driver said he was promised bigger paydays by recruiters who came to Syria. "The company [went] to Syria and said every driver will make Dh5,000 in one month. I cannot make over 1,500," the driver said. The complaints come as TransAD prepares to introduce a unified labour contract that will set a basic salary of Dh800 for all drivers, a working day of eight hours and a guarantee of free accommodation. Companies will still be free to set their own commission rates. The new contract must be offered by all taxi companies and is close to that already offered by Tawasul. The National Taxi drivers said they responded to an advert in their home countries bearing the National Taxi and Roads and Transport Authority logos. It promised six-day weeks and free accommodation. A copy of the employment contract they signed with Acura Foreign Employment Agency in Sri Lanka promised they would earn their pay through a commission scheme with a minimum Dh1,200 monthly income and a 72-hour work week. A copy of the "expenses breakdown" paid by a driver to Acura shows he gave Dh11,500 for charges that included three months of accommodation, food, training fees, licensing and visa. However, after arriving in the UAE, the Sri Lankan drivers say they were asked to sign another contract, this one for the Ministry of Labour. That document, signed in Dubai in February, does not guarantee a basic salary, accommodation or transportation to work. Instead, drivers are promised 30 per cent commission if they earn more than Dh8,550 in a month. Also, to the drivers' surprise, they were sent to work in Abu Dhabi. "We love this country. We [have] respect for the Ministry of Labour," one driver said. "We did not go the wrong way. We did not go illegal - I think the Ministry of Labour will decide to end this in happiness."