CAIRO: Escaping Cairo’s grubby heat next to the cooling breeze of a fountain in Mohandiseen, City Cab drivers past and present gathered at a taxi stand had little good to say about the taxi company.
“I worked for the company for three years. Salaries were paid later and later, one driver, Hany*, said.
“Salaries were originally meant to be paid on the 25th of each month but this became the 2nd, and then the 5th.sometimes they told us we wouldn’t be paid at all. ‘Be patient,’ they told us.
“At other times we were told that we would be paid – when drivers come back to the garage – our wages would be paid directly out of their takings for that day.
Hany has a philosophical attitude towards his decision to quit the company.
“I now work in a company which takes a set sum of LE 200 per day from me and I pay for petrol – but the company doesn’t interfere in anything after that. Even if they’re robbing us, at least we know by exactly how much they’re robbing us.
Established in 2006 the yellow city cab was trumpeted as a “taxi revolution.
Private companies were given licenses to run cars which offer air conditioning and working meters to Cairenes fed up with the capital’s ancient black and white jalopies, and haggling over fares.
Khaled El-Alamy, director of one of the companies which won a contract to operate City Cab taxis, was quoted in an interview with the BBC in 2006 as saying that the company would even be looking to employ women, “just as a political statement and as part of our corporate culture.
The corporate culture as described by City Cab’s taxi drivers is very different.
None of the drivers Daily News Egypt spoke to currently employed by City Cab were willing to give their names, all fearing that retributive measures would be taken by the company if their identities were revealed.
In March, City Cab drivers staged a protest after which some of those who took part were allegedly fired.
Last week independent daily El-Youm El-Sabei quoted City Cab operations manager Ayman Fathy as saying that drivers involved in a protest will face criminal investigations for “unlawful assembly.
Drivers also say that when they joined the company, they were made to sign undated resignation forms which are allegedly used to allow the company’s management to arbitrarily dismiss employees at will.
The signing of such forms is a widespread practice in Egypt’s growing private sector.
Forced by economic necessity into accepting unfavorable employment terms and conditions within this as yet, largely unregulated sector, non-unionized workers within the private sector enjoy little protection from exploitation.
In addition, drivers say that they are made to sign liability forms that cover any damage to the car. The forms are worth LE 5,000 – a huge responsibility – why do drivers sign these forms?
“Yes, it’s a huge responsibility but what should we do? Should we starve? Hany asked.
Drivers’ primary complaint is the late and irregular payment of wages. They said that they were meant to be receiving their salaries on the day Daily News Egypt spoke to them, but that this had been delayed by six days until next Friday “without management giving us any reason.
Another driver, Ahmed added, “Maybe they have plans more important than us – fine, we’ll bear it, but there should be a system.
While drivers are meant to get a fixed basic salary of LE 750 per month, the full amount is often not paid. A sum of LE 75 is deducted for days off agreed on in advance while this figure increases to LE 150 per day for unauthorized absence.
Other financial penalties are imposed for violations of the company dress code. One driver said that this penalty amounts to LE 50.
Drivers are particularly frustrated by recent changes to pay scales.
The monthly target they must reach has been increased by LE 1,000, to LE 4,800. Drivers who meet the target receive a 10 percent cut. The salaries of those that don’t are reduced by 10 percent.
In addition a LE 15 bonus received by drivers who make LE 160 or more per day has been cancelled.
“It wasn’t much, but at least we had something in our pocket for our families when we went home every night, Ahmed said.
Ahmed was careful to emphasize that he “respects Khaled El-Alamy for providing jobs for hundreds of people, “but he needs to have some consideration for the work we do.
“We just want one thing – our efforts to be rewarded, he added.
Daily News Egypt attempted for two days to obtain City Cab’s comment on these issues.
The company finally sent an email in which it refused to comment stating, “the issues you required our response for were investigated and settled with his Excellency Deputy Cairo Governor two weeks ago and where discussed and commented on through many media channels since then, therefore we might not [sic] restate our comments on a resolved issues [sic].
*Names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.