Two-Tier System Hurts Taxi Workers

Taxi drivers in several Quebec cities staged strikes and traffic slowdowns in October to protest the Liberal government’s backroom deal with Uber to create a two-tier system allowing Uber and its drivers to skirt industry rules and regulations.

“We have the taxi industry that needs to work with all these regulations,” said Benoit Jugand of the Regroupement des travailleurs autonomes Métallos (RTAM), a Steelworkers union group representing thousands of taxi workers.

However, the government’s deal with Uber “is saying, ‘we’re creating an open market authorizing Uber to work without legislation, without rules and regulations,’ ” Jugand added.

The government’s deal is a “pilot project” allowing Uber to legally operate in Quebec on a one-year trial basis. There are no requirements for Uber or its drivers to buy or even rent traditional taxi permits. There are no restrictions limiting the number of Uber vehicles in service, their hours of service or the territory in which they can operate.

In contrast, taxi drivers continue to be subjected to more costly permits, regulations and restrictions.

In an open letter to Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, industry representatives have argued the government should buy back the drivers’ permits if it is not willing to ensure fairness for all drivers and operators in the industry.

The two-tier system will exacerbate a crisis that is significantly affecting the livelihoods of thousands of drivers, who have invested as much as $200,000 for their permits and vehicles.

The RTAM has joined with other taxi industry representatives to form a “common front” to mount a legal challenge to the two-tier system that gives an unfair advantage to Uber. The group is scheduled to argue its case in Quebec Superior Court in January.

The common front organization has called for a meeting with the Quebec premier to discuss its concerns over the taxi industry’s future, but Couillard has refused such a meeting.

“We support modernization and innovation,” the group stated in its open letter to the premier. “We oppose a two-tier system. We oppose inequality. We are opposed to the impoverishment of workers and, by extension, our society.”

This article appears in the November 2016 edition of USW@Work magazine.  

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