Mr. G, our regular cabbie, took me into work and so, as we slowly pushed our way through the choking, aggressive gridlock, he updated me on the dark, subterranean world of the UAE’s taxi drivers. And it’s pretty grim stuff. With all the fuss we’ve seen in the international and even local media about construction labourers and their conditions, it’s strange that nobody’s looked at what the taxi companies are doing. Apparently, drivers are resigning in droves, driven to going back home by a rigidly enforced Dhs 300 per day target and a 16-hour day, 7 day week as well as a system of punitive fines that is surprisingly similar to the labour conditions of industrial revolution Britain. Drivers are fined on a seemingly totally arbitrary basis for not meeting their targets, for any damage to their cars or for pretty much any other reason you can think of.
Their replacements are new labour, recruited fresh from overseas and so not aware of the grim conditions they’ll be working in. And, apparently, a good number are Afghanis carrying (all too easily available, apparently) Pakistani passports.
Mr. G’s particularly upset that 'the company' took Dhs 400 from him recently. When he asked why, it turned out it was the fee for a mandatory training course he had been given. When on leave recently, he’d had a tooth pulled and the operation had gone wrong and complications delayed his return to work. He turned up back in the UAE week late, having faxed to say he would, with a doctor’s report. The subsequent Dhs 1,500 fine was finally reduced to Dhs 500 after much bargaining.
There has been a spate of robberies from cabs in Sharjah, something like 13 car windows smashed in December alone, apparently. No, I didn’t see the headlines, either. But what really got me about this was the fact that Mr. G knows one of the drivers who was burgled and he was robbed not once but twice. For, once the police had come and taken a report then gone, the car company fined the driver Dhs 300.
There was plenty more along these lines as we sat in the traffic. So why stay? I asked him. I’m not, he replied. The second this visa’s up, I’m off.
Fair enough. But if Mr G is to be believed (and he’s an honest cove with no particular reason to slip me a line) there are thousands of these men out there working these mad hours, in a state of dangerous tiredness, for pennies - and being (illegally?) fined at every turn by the companies that employ them.