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Sharjah cabbies should be heard

Sharjah cabbies should be heard

‘Industrial dispute’ is a phrase you don’t hear much in the UAE, but there’s one underway right now.

November 10, 2010 12:13 by

“Industrial dispute” is a phrase you don’t hear much in the UAE. The law, generous to the employer and unforgiving to the employee, is ruthlessly enforced for the most part; most employees are completely dependent on their employer thanks in no small part to the sponsorship system; and in many instances (especially in low skilled work) there is no shortage of alternative labour regularly arriving from South Asia.

All this combines to make employee action against an employer very rare. These are some of the reasons that labourers toil in the hot sun day after day and return to inadequate accommodation every night without complaint. They’re also the reasons why maids can find themselves trapped in abusive households with no means of escape.

And they are some of the reasons taxi drivers here work long, unforgiving days, also without complaint. So when we see significant industrial action on the part of taxi drivers in Sharjah, we should take note; the men involved are not prone to bouts of unrest.

Khaleej Times reported on Wednesday that a further 200 taxi drivers in the emirate of Sharjah stopped work yesterday. According to the paper, that means that the estimated total number of striking cabbies in Sharjah has reached 1,000. The drivers are protesting changes to their remuneration system that will see them pay 52 fils for every kilometer they travel. Combined with fines, charges and commission charges it decimates their potential personal income.

Bosses are unrelenting in the face of the strike. “They just do not care, and force cabbies to sign an approval of the new rule before giving back their cabs,” one driver told Khaleej Times.

Aside from the fact that the taxi industry is vital to the health of the country (how many other workers in how many industries depend on them for transport?), the Sharjah taxi developments are illustrative of an underlying problem in all industries and economies.

The global economic downturn has been a driver of company “efficiencies” across the board, but we fear that in many cases it has become the excuse to continually force employees to do more work for less. But how far can this be pushed? The Sharjah taxi drivers have potentially reached their breaking point, who will be next?

It seems unlikely that the drivers will succeed in their protest, as organizations in this part of the world have little tolerance for industrial action. They will likely lose their jobs, and be replaced and their protest forgotten. But we sincerely hope for once that won’t happen; they deserve to be heard and represented.

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