Govt drive aims for fair play on taxis

Updated: 2012-02-29 09:55

By Chen Xin and Xin Dingding (China Daily)

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BEIJING - The government plans to improve labor relations within the taxi industry in a move to better protect drivers' rights and reduce the chance of strikes.

Aiming to introduce collective talks between taxi drivers and employers, the transport and labor ministries, together with the major trade union organization, have announced a two-year campaign starting next month.

"More than half of the disputes in the taxi industry in recent years were related to poor labor relations, unreasonable contract fees (that drivers pay employers) and insufficient protection of drivers' rights," said Deputy Minister of Transport Feng Zhenglin at a work conference on Monday.

There are more than 8,700 taxi corporations, about 1 million taxis and more than 2 million cab drivers in China, according to the People's Daily.

In general, taxi firms lease a car to one or two drivers on monthly contracts.

"Taxi drivers in many places have been complaining about being overcharged for contract fees and that has led to drivers' strikes in places such as Chongqing and Hainan in the past several years," said Feng Xiliang, a labor expert at the Beijing-based Capital University of Economics and Business.

In many small and medium-sized cities, contracts between drivers and employers were lacking, he said.

A manager surnamed Li with Minda taxi service in Jiangjin, a county-level district in Southwest China's Chongqing municipality, said his firm owns 93 taxis and normally two drivers a day take a turn at the wheel.

Li said that his company always contracts the operation rights to one driver who has to find another driver to jointly run the cab.

"We do not sign a contract with the second driver, and it's a common practice in the industry," he said.

Li welcomes the government's plan to regulate employment contracts and believes it will help address the frequent turnover of drivers. "But I'm afraid it would increase our costs," he said.

Yang Zhiming, deputy minister of human resources and social security, said they would design a contract convenient to both drivers and employers.

Collective talks will be held at taxi firms where drivers and employers can negotiate contract fees, income, social security and days off. "Employers should sign labor contracts with all drivers, and we would calculate the cost of operating a taxi and urge companies to set reasonable contract fees," said Feng.

Each town or city would also be obliged to run a reasonable number of taxis and other public transport services; to set up a mechanism to adjust fares to fuel prices; and to ensure that drivers earn a fair amount for the time they worked, he said.

Feng said they would take steps to ensure that each driver could have at least one day off a week.

Dou Keying, a Beijing taxi driver, welcomed the new campaign but he does not pin his hopes on it.

"Calls for reform of the taxi business have never stopped over the past 10 years, but strangely nothing has changed at all," he said.

Still, it was "comforting" to know that someone cares and understands about the hardships of this job, he added.

Jiang Mingsheng, another taxi driver in the capital, said that Beijing has strict regulations concerning taxi drivers' standards of service. Fines were heavy, he said, but taxi drivers had no opportunity to speak out if they themselves were wronged.

"There is an examination team in charge of checking cabs' cleanliness," he said. "Once, an officer saw oil stains on the seat cover left by my last customer and fined me 200 yuan ($32) for that. I promised to put on a clean seat cover immediately but it was no use."

Ren Lingyun, a visiting research fellow with Rural Development Research Institute of Hunan who specializes in conflicts in the taxi business, believed that drivers' voices would not be heard in the negotiations proposed by the campaign.

"The root cause (of conflicts) has not been touched," he said.

In most cities, including Beijing, the city government grants licenses to taxi companies through auction, not to individuals. The limited number of licenses makes them more valuable, which allows companies to either resell the operating rights to an individual at double the price or lease a taxi to drivers at high fees, he said.

In a few other cities, such as Wenzhou in Zhejiang province, the government auctions the licenses to individuals, he said.

"But the number is limited, and it's the government, not the market, that decides the cap on taxi numbers, and that causes the scarcity," he said.

Also the number of illegal cabs has increased on the streets, grabbing business from authorized cabs, and resulting in strikes by drivers in some cities, he added.