Monday, 28 January 2008


As Bill Gates’ visit to the Emirates dominates the newspapers, I’ve dropped my car to Al Habtoor in order that they can gouge me in the traditional, and distressingly regular, gouging spree that is Servicing A Pajero.

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.


Anonymous said...

The classic is the quality control fine. When the drivers ask why they are being fined, they aren't told why - it's just a quick deduction of 500Dhs. Let's say a cabbie persistently speeds and drives dangerously and is reported and is fined 500Dhs. If not told what the fine is for, he carries on driving as he did before, probably unaware that that's why he was fine, given that that way of driving, which is perfectly normal for them in his home country, is causing people to report them and hence the fine. The fine is just a mystery to them and as they are not told the reason, they carry on as before and get fined again. Tragic.

i*maginate said...

Yes, this is sad.

"and being (illegally?) fined at every turn by the companies that employ them."

Whether it's illegal or not depends on the private contract signed by the employee...if they sign on the dotted line accepting all clauses, fines under certain circumstances being one of them, they ain't gonna be driving far, innit.

I also think their situation is abysmal, & that not enough attention is given to their plight.

Great job in bringing this up.

Seabee said...

I had a conversation with a cabbie recently along similar lines. He was explaining the target/salary relationship as we were stuck in gridlock on Al Ittihad Road - he didn't have a chance of making it that day, or any other day given Dubai's traffic chaos.

Keefieboy said...

It is shocking - on more than one occasion in Dubai I have bailed out of taxis whose drivers were too tired to drive safely. I once had to visit the headquarters of one of the taxi firms to try to recover some lost property, and the reception area was aswarm with drivers complaining about deductions from their pay. The 'in-charge' was very nice to me, but treated the drivers like cattle. Sad, and criminally dangerous.

Anonymous said...

OH! this made me forgive the grumpy taxi driver that didn't want to take me Satwa till i threatened to call his company and complain! actually i feel bad now! very well done in shedding some light on this issue...

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