Lawyers call for better conditions for taxi drivers
Tuesday 13 December 2011
The Victorian Federation of Community Legal Centres today echoed calls by former Premier Jeff Kennett for better working conditions for taxi drivers to address the shortage of drivers in Victoria. For the past year, Footscray Community Legal Centre, in partnership with the Federation, has been operating a free legal advice clinic for taxi drivers, helping over 150 drivers. Research from the clinic has highlighted the need for better pay and conditions.
“Taxi driving is difficult, dangerous and poorly paid. Taxi drivers keep only 50% of the fares they collect, before tax. On quiet shifts, they earn as little as $8 an hour,” said Denis Nelthorpe, Manager of the Taxi Driver Legal Clinic. “These drivers are among the most vulnerable workers in Victoria. Over 95% of our clients were born overseas, and more than half of them came to Australia within the last five years,” he added. “Many drivers work 12 hours a day, six days a week, but still struggle to support themselves. An accident, illness, or even just a few quiet shifts, can mean financial catastrophe for drivers and their families.”
Lawyers at the clinic have seen the hardship and stress that is part of a taxi driver’s everyday life. Underlying the poor working conditions is the fact that drivers are not treated as employees and don’t receive the same protections as other workers.
“Taxi drivers are not entitled to the minimum wage because they are not treated as employees,” said Lucie O’Brien, Policy Officer at the Federation of Community Legal Centres. “They get no sick leave, holiday leave or superannuation. They have no protection against unfair dismissal and no right to regular hours. To improve conditions in the industry, the Victorian Government needs to legislate to give taxi drivers basic employment rights.”
A common legal problem presenting at the clinic arises from the failure of taxi owners to take out comprehensive car insurance. This means that when drivers have accidents, they can be held responsible for the cost of repairing the taxi and any other cars involved. An accident on the job can easily result in drivers owing up to $30,000. Many drivers in this situation have no choice but to declare bankruptcy.
“Unlike other workers, taxi drivers face significant financial and legal risks every day they go to work, because taxi owners don’t have proper insurance,” said Ms O’Brien. “The Victorian Government must act to make comprehensive insurance compulsory for all Victorian taxis.”
Denis Nelthorpe, Footscray Community Legal Centre: 0414 545 290
Lucie O’Brien, Federation of Community Legal Centres: 0421 491 054