The reactions from various taxi leaders and in particular the industry in general to the announcement of a workers union representing the workforce in the taxi sector is both a sad and a positive development.
Sad in a sense that the rush in making those pronouncements seems to have caught the taxi industry by surprise. Sad again because it would appear from the distance that the formation of the alleged union may not have been discussed by all stakeholders concerned. What is extremely worrisome and also appear to have been a pre-planned structural set up is that the announcement of the formation of the taxi industry workers union appears well-calculated to coincide with the launch of the Taxi Lekgotla set for this October Transport Month.
Insiders in the taxi service say that they were surprised when, during one of the virtual meetings where issues affecting the taxi business were to be discussed they were suddenly introduced to the leadership of the union – allegedly with the blessing from the South African Federation of Trade Union (Saftu). Saftu, which until recently was still trying to work towards building a strong workers constituency both in the traded union and political arenas – has suddenly found a voice in the taxi industry. How a strong labour federation union like the Congress of South African Trade Union (Cosatu) was not present is not a big issue but questions have to be asked about their absence.
On a positive side though, it could be a very good and positive development to have workers in the taxi industry finally being represented and also qualifying for other benefits like the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and Medical Aid. Of course this would mean that taxi owners, who by labour law are bound to register their employees – would have to register their businesses with the Labour Department for these workers to enjoy all benefits. Medical aid fund companies are not and will not be bound to enter into any agreement for them to disburse and offer their products while there is no written agreement and consent in place. The day these workers in the taxi industry, many of whom have suffered years of abuse and exploitation form their taxi operator bosses – finally get their rights back as the country’s labour laws dictate – would probably mark a historic achievement on the lives of these workers.
Both the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) and National Taxi Alliance (NTA) provincial structures in the province of Gauteng, by far the most powerful provinces when it comes to resources and economic power, have indicated that they would not oppose such a union but insist they have not heard of or met the leadership of the union. This, let it be hoped, would not lead to a power struggle about the recognition or non-recognition of the union once the right time for real talks begin. Let these pre-talks among various stakeholders before the Taxi Lekgotla not cause unnecessary delays because, should that be allowed to happen, it would be like taking hundred of steps backward.