Up The Workers

(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).

 

I read with interest that Uber drivers have taken strike action to demand they are recognised as employees and are paid the minimum wage. I thought this employees v self-employed thing was sorted ages ago. Apparently not; the appeals go on and there are still court cases pending. The last time I saw an Uber advert aimed at recruiting drivers they were promising huge amounts of money to drivers. Do you think they were telling porkies?

Anyway, I’m not here to have a pop at Uber drivers; they have it hard enough with their employer/agency supporting the ULEZ charge. Ain’t that a kick in the head? Good luck with the holiday and sick pay.

I wonder if we could claim we are employed workers of TfL and get holiday and sick pay? We’re told what to drive and where we can do it. TfL control just about everything to do with our business. We are just as dependent on TfL as Uber drivers are on their organisation.

In terms of vehicle, we’re even more restricted. We can only buy one model from new, and I’m unconvinced we’re going to see more. All London taxis have had to be wheelchair accessible as far back as I can remember. They also have to comply with the twenty-five feet turning circle. It’s a great feature, but it undoubtedly puts the price up. TfL have got it the wrong way round anyway: minicabs outnumber us about 4 to 1, so it’s minicabs that should have the turning circle requirement.

We’re told where to place the stickers and notices provided by TfL. We’re compelled to publicise certain credit card companies; but we could be in trouble if we publicise our own business ventures. All advertising has to conform to increasingly strict guidelines. TfL decide what’s permissible in the style of a Taliban censor: no women in underwear, and nothing dangerous like guns, bombs, salt or sugar. Are our cabs even our own? We learnt in a recent edition of Taxi that a taxi is “a designated public space.”

We used to think of the road network as a designated public space, but it now appears to be privately-owned by TfL. They decide who can use it, when to close it; and they can muck about with the roads as much as they like. The useable roads are reducing at an alarming rate each week, and whole areas are out of bounds (ie. Bank Junction). Their cameras are watching our every move. Any mistake and we get a photo of our cab in the post with a demand for money.

We’re told where we can work: fair enough. I don’t have much grasp of what goes on east of Bishopsgate so I’m not going to be plying for hire in Essex. There don’t seem to be the same restrictions for minicabs operating out of their licensing areas though. TfL-licenced cars are famously operating all over the country with impunity. If we tried picking up folk in Wolverhampton our feet wouldn’t touch.

We’re told what to charge by a tamper-proof meter.  Fine; but private hire companies can charge what they like. Uber are keeping their fares as low as possible until they’ve taken over the world, but they can’t resist ratchetting up the fare when there’s a spike in demand (in the unlikely event they do take over the world, their surge-pricing fares will become the norm. 370% I heard recently).

We have to use ranks appointed by TfL, and we can’t turn jobs down when our For Hire light is on. We’re compelled to take a passenger twelve miles out (we should be so lucky; I can’t remember the last time I had a job longer than twelve miles). Minicab drivers are under pressure to take every job offered, but the pressure come from their organisation rather than TfL – whether they’re self-employed or not.

Our training is clearly stipulated. You can combine study at home with riding around London with a clipboard, but there’s no distance learning option: you have to physically present yourself at an exam centre for a very traumatic series of Appearances. There’s virtually no transparency or flexibility. Complaining is pointless, resistance is futile.

What else? Ah yes, we haven’t yet been told what we can and can’t wear, but give it time. In fairness, the opposition tend to dress smarter than we do, though I don’t see why anyone needs to wear a suit to drive someone to Euston. Aspiring taxi drivers pretty much have to wear a suit and tie for Knowledge exams. I shouldn’t think trainee barristers have to wear suits for law exams.

My ideas might be a touch under-baked, but there is certainly compelling evidence suggesting that we are merely employees of TfL. I could do with some holiday pay, so I think it’s worth taking this one to court. To register your interest in my crowdfunding claim, just send me your money in a brown paper bag. I regret I’m unable to accept credit cards or give change. Oh, I forgot to mention mandatory credit card acceptance…

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