Just a cabbie?

Depending on where you work, a standard day on the job may consist of answering phone calls, taking orders or booking appointments, perhaps sweeping and mopping at the end of a long day, and leaving with the exhausted gratification that your bank account won’t be land-sliding into a negative balance at the end of the week.

A standard day for a taxi driver, however, can include an array of delightful opportunities and a nebulous of ambiguity of what the day may bring. Such joys include: your clientele refusing to pay or making a run for it so you have to cover their trip out of your own wage; drunkards vomiting in the back seat of the car, which you have to mop up; listening to the bitter tirades of your customer, either unleashing abusive taunts or complaining about your skills, ethnic background or that you went a different route to what they would have taken themselves; going to work every day, apprehensive of what dangers or violence may lie ahead; and, finally, for the cherry on top, finishing a tiresome seven­teen hour shift with $300 in your pocket, only to have to fork over half of it to your employer. Combine this with no sick leave, no standard hourly rate, no superan­nuation and no annual leave, and you must certainly be living the high life. This may not sound like a riveting experience, and perhaps many of us would want to have a job that entails none of the above. Unfortunately, for those in the taxi industry, this is the reality of what their occupation demands on a day-to-day basis.

Alongside these grievances, Melbourne Airport’s decision in May to axe the ‘short-fare queue’ system was unsurprisingly met with unprecedented outrage and highlighted further mistreatment. Instead of targeting the few who bypass the system, every taxi driver is now forced to bear the brunt of the restriction. Considering that Melbourne Airport is so depend­ent on the taxi industry for transportation of passengers, it seems illogical to treat those who abide by the rules and carry out local, cheaper jobs to be equally punished.

With such poor working conditions, are questions not raised as to why taxi drivers seem to also be taking so much flak from society, and why it is progressively becoming normal for people to belittle or violently attack them?

Conducting a Google search, I stumbled upon a Facebook group entitled, ‘Giving taxi drivers unnecessary drunken abuse’. Has prejudice against ‘cabbies’ really expanded to just become some cruel pastime for the amusement of the great unwashed? I wonder how many Facebook groups have gone viral with a similar premise, such as, ‘Giving florists un­necessary thorn pricks’ or ‘Giving chefs unnecessary oven burns’. Obvious­ly not a lot, but people seem to have stooped low enough to generalise a whole occupation and degrade a person completely for merely carrying out their job, rather than showing them the appreciation that they deserve.

Of course, you cannot dismiss all cases. I’m sure there are examples of taxi drivers who are perhaps rude, perverted, arrogant, or offensive. But isn’t this the case for all workplaces? In any job? No matter where you work or what level you are at, there will always be some employee who is, to put it politely, just an unfriendly person. But surely the minority of taxi drivers who are rude, perverted, arrogant or offensive can’t be said to represent taxi drivers as a whole.

According to an analysis by the Australian Taxi Industry Associa­tion in 2011, almost 2 out of every 3 taxi drivers are born overseas. It could be assumed, then, that that the ease of acquiring work as a taxi driver is what attracts such a large proportion of migrant workers. So is the figure released by the Taxi Council in 2011 of a 300% increase in assaults on taxi drivers in the past ten years highlighting a racial issue? Is this confirmation of a perpetually growing narrow-mindedness? Or are they merely an easy target because they work alone and carry cash?

One of the most worrying factors of this predica­ment is that this understated ignorance is increasingly being accepted as the norm. It is more common to hear people launch vitriolic assaults on cabbies than to hear someone voice a defence. It has become normal to label taxi drivers derogatively; it has become normal to not pay someone for their time and service; it has, appar­ently, become perfectly normal to throw glass bottles at someone and beat them with a baseball bat.

Why should someone have to endure such abuses in their job? A job that allows someone to provide for themselves and their family, contribute to their community and develop invaluable skills. It is a job that provides us, as customers, a service that takes us from point A to point B. And it is about us, as customers, generating respect for a person and the service they provide

Perhaps next time you happen to take a taxi home after a smash­ing night out, treat your driver to a bit of unprecedented excitement. Give them a tip; engage them in a conversation that will make the thirty minute drive fly by; and, maybe if you’re feeling extra kind, take a detour through a McDonalds’ drive thru and buy them a large vanilla thick shake. Because, when it comes down to it, the service taxi drivers provide is one of the most underappreciated in Melbourne.


Lisa Healy

The author Lisa Healy

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