Our mighty unions fiddle while the taxi industry burns

Everyone is stressing about the taxi wars. The taxi route fights have affected me too.

Everyone is stressing about the taxi wars. The taxi route fights have affected me too.

Several months ago some passengers and I had to change to another taxi at gunpoint. A rival organisation was demanding that all drivers on that route should attend a court case involving two men.

The men had been arrested during a protest against the taxi recapitalisation scheme.

Those who chose to work and put their clients first, were stopped and fined. Our first driver had to pay a spot fine of R500 on the scene.

I do not know what happened to him as he did not have enough money to cover the fine. As we left, he was pleading with the bullies for mercy. He said the taxi owner had a henchman who collected the fares after every three trips.

I have found that the more decrepit the taxi, the more trouble you are in. The newer taxis are seldom stopped and their drivers always joke with the bullies.

The illegal stops by the enforcers are well-known. They are all on Main Reef Road just past Edgardale and the Jumbo Cash and Carry. There is a stop at the turn-off to the Faraday taxi exchange rank.

There are seldom any metro police on the route as it is heavily monitored by those huge traffic cameras. I do not think the aggressive men care a hoot for them.

I sympathise with the drivers because they are between a rock and a hard place. I admire most of them for the way they endure their harsh working conditions.

They work all hours for little pay and most barely manage to feed their families.

But I am irritated because they are so slow to unionise. One driver told me whenever meetings are announced to discuss forming a union, the bosses come in droves to hang around the rank.

The drivers are not allowed to take time off to attend these meetings. Those who defy the owners quickly find themselves without work. This is a brutal industry.

I think they should approach one of the big union federations to help them form a union. I am surprised these unions have not ventured into the taxi industry. Perhaps they are wary of becoming targets.

I wonder why, given that they stood up to even the more sinister and well-armed apartheid government. They defied them and won. They changed the South African economic and political landscape.

The union federations should take care of the taxi drivers. They do not have anyone to champion their cause. Instead of congratulating themselves on gains in the past, they should realise many workers are still outside their protective networks.

The government only speaks to taxi bosses, not the drivers. That, too, should change.