Taxi drivers protest outside Flinders Street Station
They form an integral part of our public transport workforce, yet their working conditions, safety and welfare are largely ignored. They work in a multi-million dollar industry, but regularly take home less than the minimum wage. Welcome to the world of the Melbourne taxi driver.
The taxi industry has been in the spotlight in recent years, not least for the 2008 Flinders Street station protest when, following a violent attack on one of their own, drivers stopped work and removed their shirts to bring attention to their plight. As a result, driver safety was improved with the introduction of security screens and pre-paid fares.
But the story doesn’t end there. Recently, I met with a large number of taxi drivers to gain a first-hand account of life as a Melbourne cabbie. The picture is bleak.
Drivers often work 16-hour days and, depending on demand, can take home less than $7 per hour. There’s no holiday pay or sick leave. They fund their own uniforms, clean up after drunken patrons, and pay the fare when a passenger does a runner.
Perhaps the most critical issue, though, is that of insurance. Third-party insurance is not mandatory for taxi cabs, and is expensive because mainstream insurance providers refuse to insure taxis. Many taxis operate uninsured and if a driver causes an accident with another vehicle, he or she is personally responsible for the damage. Bankruptcy beckons.
Melbourne’s drivers have little power in the taxi game. They sign unregulated bailment agreements with operators, with a recommended 50-50 fare split. Thus they become independent contractors, looking out for themselves in an industry where taxi licences change hands for up to half a million dollars, but little filters down to the driver.
Taxis are an essential part of Melbourne’s public transport system and taxi drivers deserve fair treatment, just like bus, train and tram drivers.
The taxi industry needs reform to ensure a more equitable distribution of income and to ensure safe and reasonable working conditions for drivers. It’s only ‘fare’.