Taxi firms drive a hard bargain

New contract sets a basic wage of Dh800 and a percentage when they earn over Dh6,000, but owners have leeway over commission rate.

Taxis drivers are questioning whether a new contract still leaves room for wage differences.
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Abu Dhabi // Drivers of silver taxis are questioning whether a new "unified" contract, which takes effect today, still leaves too much ambiguity - and room for wage discrepancies. The taxi regulator TransAD and the Ministry of Labour yesterday signed a memorandum that would guarantee company housing and the same basic salary across all seven of the capital's taxi firms.

The contract's terms, however, allow the companies to set their own commission schemes. Masood Hashem, TransAD's director of compliance, regulation and licensing, said the concession on commission structures was necessary to accommodate different operational expenses for the companies. "Commission is ... based on the target and costs of the companies," he said. Even the different models of cars in fleets can affect overheads, he added. "It's really difficult to put a fixed standard commission," he said. "Some of the companies have Camrys, some of them have Altimas, some of them have Tiidas. The price of the vehicles is different, and [so is] the infrastructure for the company."

Under the new contract, which is optional for current drivers until their existing contracts expire, all drivers will receive at least Dh800 (US$218) basic salary a month, plus accommodation off the island. Commission will be paid once they gross more than Dh6,000 a month. "The commission must be approved by us," Mr Hashem said. "We don't want big differences between all companies, but we cannot tell them there is one standard."

About 600 or 700 new drivers are recruited each year, said Mr Hashem. One driver, who has been working for one-and-a-half years with Arabia Taxi company, appreciated changes in the contract that would give him a basic salary and company-provided housing. But he was disappointed by the decision to leave commission to the firms. "This salary for the new drivers and all drivers will be Dh800, but what is going to be the commission after Dh6,000?" he said. "There are seven companies in Abu Dhabi. All have different rules. I'll see if the commission is good."

Under his current contract, he said, a driver who exceeds Dh10,000 in fares gets a 35 per cent commission. Earning that kind of money is physically draining, however, said another driver from the Q Link taxi company. The Nepalese driver, 28, estimated that he works about 15 hours every day to make that amount, or about Dh300 a day. "We need to see the commission," said the driver, who has worked at Q Link for two years. "Now our basic salary is Dh800, plus if we make more than Dh4,000 in one month we get commission." The new contract would raise the bar for earning commission to Dh6,000. "Nobody will be happy, I think, because it's difficult to earn money," he said.

Sayed Hakeem, the general manager for Emirates Taxi, said the new contract was "basically the same" as the current one offered by his company. "It helps the drivers and the companies, because everything is black and white," he said. "Basically, the lousiest of the drivers should get at least Dh800. A decent one Dh3,000." Mr Hashem said, he expected the majority of the capital's taxi drivers to welcome the new contract.

"We tried to make something equal to everybody to benefit the companies and also the drivers," he said. Hameed bin Deemas, the acting director general of the Ministry of Labour, said he understood that the average salary of taxi drivers was about Dh3,500 a month, not including accommodation. He hoped the new contract would reduce complaints from drivers.