Monday, June 13, 2011

Taxi driver

Civil disobedience happens rarely here because it's effectively outlawed, but I came across this story in my morning trawl down the back of the Middle East news sofa.  It's fair to say that taxi drivers in the UAE have some of the worst working conditions, apart from construction workers. For the taxi drivers it's 12-hour days seven days a week.  They do at least get time off each year to go and see their families but from what I can tell, they don't get to choose when they get to go. 

You do get dodgy ones, of course, and they can be pretty grumpy, although, to be fair, I think I would be grumpy if I spent 12 hours driving around in boiling heat. Often, you'll find, as I once did, that they're educated men from poor backgrounds who've been forced to abandon a potentially interesting career for the sake of supporting family.  I was driven by the same taxi driver twice in the space of a few weeks once and we discussed democracy, Marxism, Communism and other jolly things like that.  He had given up his university place in Pakistan to come to Dubai and drive because his parents had died and he had a large family of younger siblings to support.  So, he told me, he spent his days trying to engage customers in intelligent conversation to keep his brain going. 

Another time, I sat in the front seat of a cab and the driver pulled away before I had chance to fasten my seatbelt causing the seatbelt alarm to go off.  The Bangladeshi driver said:  "The car is crying, please fasten your seatbelt," which made me giggle a bit so we had a chat about life, the universe and everything.  He had a two-year-old daughter back home in Bangladesh who had not seen since just after she was born.

These drivers launched a protest about the brutal murder of one of their colleagues.  It's not the poor pay, long hours or lack of freedom and sometimes dangerous conditions of their jobs, it's being made to wear a tie that seems to have been the breaking point because it's the first thing people grab when they attack them.  In this poor driver's case, it was used to bind his hands while he was stabbed.

If you give it the tinest bit of thought, the tie, although it looks smart, is really rather a ridiculous and pointless garment, particularly when you're being forced to wear it in 40-50degree temperatures. You can't even really loosen your collar a bit in the heat of the day for fear that someone will report you to your firm for not looking smart.  For the drivers, I can see how it would be a symbol of everything that is repressive and restrictive about their job.  Not only are they working punishing hours but more often than not, it's part of their contract that they live in driver accomodation so they mix with no one but other drivers in what's effectively a ghetto. Being told to wear a completely unnecessary garment in those conditions which can then be used against you in confrontations must be the last straw. 

No comments:

Post a Comment