On April 30 hundreds of taxi drivers blockaded one of Melbourne’s busiest intersections, at Flinders and Swanston streets, for 22 hours. The Victorian government was forced to meet with the drivers after they threatened to continue the action and blockade the airport.
This extraordinary action came after the stabbing of 23-year-old taxi driver Javinder Singh. The protest took up workplace safety issues as well as challenging the racism that many taxi drivers face on a daily basis.
Taxi drivers have horrendous working conditions, earning an estimated $8 an hour. Sixty per cent of drivers don’t own their taxi licence, paying around $24,000 a year to investors to operate the taxis.
The taxi drivers forced Victorian Transport Minister, Lynne Kosky, to agree to subsidise installation of safety screens and to enforce the mandatory prepayment of fares between 10pm and 5am. Kosky also agreed to waive parking fines incurred by drivers during the protest.
Haseeb Choudhry has been driving taxis for three years. He works 12 hour shifts, six night per week. Like most drivers in Melbourne, he does not own the taxi he drives and despite working for the same taxi owner every night, is considered a business owner, or sub-contractor. This means he is responsible for paying GST and income tax on his earnings and has no entitlements to sick leave, annual leave, superannuation or workers compensation. He spoke to Julie Smith.
How did you hear about the protest and what it about?
We had a plan to protest on a special day, like a long weekend, in the city or at the airport, about safety and wages. Every taxi depot in Melbourne has now started taking 58 per cent of drivers’ earnings each night. They used to only take 50 per cent, but told us they had to do this because of the financial crisis. Then the taxi driver was stabbed, so we protested early.
I got a text message from another driver, saying there was a protest at Federation Square and that it was important to come because what happened to the other driver could happen to all of us. I sent the message on to about another 10 or 15 drivers and went straight away to Federation Square to support this protest.