Taxi drivers in South Africa want to register their trade union

Long queues at the Kuwait taxi rank in Site C Khayelitsha. Archive Photo by Mzi Velapi

On the 4th of July the National Public Transport Workers Association (Qina Mshayeli) notified the department of employment and labour of their intent to register the union.

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) and Qina National Public Transport Workers Association (Qina Mshayeli) have written to the minister of employment and labour demanding the formal recognition of Qina as a union representing taxi drivers, marshals and taxi rank administrative staff. They held a joint media briefing to address this matter in Durban on Friday.

Zwelinzima Vavi, SAFTU’s general secretary, said the taxi owners and taxi drivers should be recognised as employers and employees respectfully. For far too long, he argued, the taxi industry has been ignored and as a result, drivers are forced to work outside the constitutional and legal framework that govern the labour relations in this country. “The changes in the industry in the 1970s and 1980s involved the formalisation of the taxi operators but were mainly limited. The taxi driver and taxi owner should be seen as in a formal employment relation.  On the 4th of July they [Qina] are going to write a letter to the labour department,” said Vavi.

Driver incentives to earn money by meeting passenger and route targets is an issue Vavi highlighted as a grievance the union will be fighting, as it leads to driver fatigue which causes accidents. “Everyone needs money and the drivers end up agreeing to work following target rules,” he said, despite being too tired.

SAFTU is working with Qina Mshayeli to get the union of taxi drivers to be registered. Photo by Tsoanelo Sefoloko

David Shange, the Qina Mshayeli general secretary, said it is overdue for taxi drivers and other staff to be seen as formal workers. “We have been engaging with the department of employment and labour… In our engagement with the taxi owners some of them said their business are not registered with SARS [South African Revenue Service], but some didn’t know anything about registration of the business since as far as 2012 and 2013, but when we did our research we encountered that some of the taxi owners have registered with SARS and some with [the department of] labour,” said Shange.

Bonginkosi Sangweni said he has been a taxi driver since he completed his matric 23 years ago.
“I have been waiting for this opportunity of being registered for far too long now because as a worker you are able to have benefit, said Sangweni. He described the difficult working conditions of drivers, where they have to walk in the dark to fetch the taxis from the garages where they are kept overnight and as a result, are at risk of being crime victims.

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“There is no regulation of the contract or agreement between yourself and the employer. We are at the mercy of our employer. Some employers expect you to cash R1,000 at the end of the day and some expect more, it depends on who your employer is,” he said.

Sangweni said that most taxi drivers would be happy to be recognised as employees because most of them do not have an experience of being in a trade union and have been groomed to accept that what they have is the best possible deal and cannot ask for better working conditions or benefits.

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