By Parag Deulgaonkar
Dubai’s decision to give taxi drivers a day off is welcome but only a small, first step.
They work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. They don’t receive a fixed monthly salary, working only for commission. Simply said: the more taxi drivers in the UAE work, the more they earn. So it is understandable why they chose to work such agonisingly long hours.
I think driving a taxi is among the toughest jobs in this country. They don’t only have to be courteous and are not allowed to refuse a passenger, but financially they have to use their meagre salary to pay for any traffic or police fines, which can add up given the number of hours they spend on the road.
Though not many UAE residents frequently converse with taxi drivers, I often interact with them, as I speak the native languages of many (Urdu/Hindi and Bengali). The tales they narrate reveal their agony of having to endure long work hours and share an apartment and the stress of missing their monthly targets.
A professional friend recently recounted her harrowing experience as a passenger sitting behind a tired taxi driver at 9pm. When turning at the traffic lights in front of Dubai Mall towards DIFC, the cabbie drove down the wrong side of the road. Thoughtfully, she refrained from shouting at him and instead asked what time he started work. He replied, 6am.
Even in developed countries drivers often work more than half an entire day. A recent survey by the Japanese transport ministry found nearly 20 percent of bus drivers work 13 hours or more daily. Nearly 24.9 percent sleep less than five hours a day, while 63.7 percent get five-seven hours’ sleep and just 11.4 percent get the recommended seven or more hours.
Studies suggest long driving hours lead to life-shortening health issues such as chronic back and joint pains, sleep deprivation, fatigue, lethargy, obesity and high blood pressure.
Authorities in the UK, Australia and other countries recommend drivers take a 15-minute break every two hours when driving long journeys. Ignoring the advice is dangerous: the UK Department of Transport points out that more than 20 percent of motorway collisions are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel and up to one in 10 crashes on all roads in the UK – nearly 23,000 annually - are linked to fatigue.
The European Union has clear rules for drivers ferrying passengers: they can work for no more than 4.5 hours without taking a break of at least 45 minutes. It also recommends at least 11 hours rest each day.
As the UAE celebrates the Year of Giving, Dubai Taxi Corporation, a subsidiary of the government-owned Roads and Transport Authority, took the first step to improve the health of its drivers this month. It has started giving them a weekly day off, which will support the emirate’s drive to become one of the top 10 happiest cities in the world.
Dubai Taxi Foundation executive director Dr Yousuf Al Ali said: “The launch of the weekly taxi drivers’ off system comes as part of our keenness to alleviate the workload of drivers. The aim is to enhance traffic safety by reducing the number of accidents, resulting from fatigue and exhaustion of drivers.”
Undoubtedly, a weekly day off for cabbies is a progressive step. It will not only mean fewer cars and traffic on roads, but a more happier and efficient taxi driver.
Now the pressure is on private taxi operating companies to follow suit.
Giving them a day off is indeed a good step and will improve safety on the road as well since we find them not very alert all day, mostly because of being behind the wheels for long hours. But, since they are on commission based package, will they be happy at the end of the month ? it would definitely mean less earnings as they will be off for 4-5 days/month!!