The New South Wales Parliamentary has released the findings of its inquiry into the State’s taxi industry. Although OHS was not the focus of the inquiry, “working conditions” were included in the terms of reference and the report has made some safety recommendations. The taxi industry requires an innovative approach to OHS implementation in order to meet future driver and passenger demands.
The Committee has called for
“…an increased emphasis on occupational health and safety, industrial issues and insurance rights to better inform taxi drivers of their entitlements and responsibilities…”
even though the NSW Taxi Council
stated that existing training exceeded national training standards. Perhaps the range of stakeholders consulted by the Council needs reviewing. Clearly training has been deficient in reality even if it matches national benchmarks. This calls into question one’s reliance on national training standards.
The committee made a formal recommendation (number 52) on training
“That NSW Transport and Infrastructure
review the current driver training program and increase the amount of time that is allocated to teaching about occupational health and safety as well as industrial rights issues.” [link added]
The Federal Government
announced in November 2009 that new national standards would be introduced for the taxi industry from July 2010 so it is interesting to note some of the comments to the NSW inquiry given the writing was on the wall.
The new national minimum standards include
- “use of a taxi’s communication systems
- skills and knowledge to safely drive a taxi
- ability to operate a wheelchair accessible taxi
- understanding of occupational health and safety issues impacting on taxis
- ability to identify and describe local attractions, services and major roads
- completion of workplace induction into the transport industry
- provision of customer service to passengers
- skills to operate a taxi meter, calculate fares, handle payments and maintain
- accounting records” [emphasis added]
It listed OHS hazards faced by taxi drivers from
“…unroadworthiness of vehicles, driver fatigue and transporting passengers who may be under the influence of alcohol or illicit substances.”
This combination of hazard could be difficult to face on a regular basis and the Australian Taxi Drivers Association expressed reasonable expectations in its submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry:
“Almost all drivers want to do their job, arduous as a twelve hour shift may be, in safety and with a degree of respect and self respect which ensures they will be paid for their services, not be physically assaulted or robbed, and in a reasonably comfortable working environment. They would like to earn a living wage for their families. They would offer, in return a comfortable, reliable, and safe trip for passengers, with a courteous and appropriate level of service and communication.”
There have been many inquiries into the taxi industry over the years in almost all Australian states. OHS legislation is a one size fits all but there are always fringe industries and not-so-fringe industries that struggle with the implementation of workplace safety and the application of its laws. Some fringe industries like Australia’s licensed sex industry struggle to even fit the OHS obligations.
The taxi sector has moved more mainstream as it brings itself under the public transport purview but it remains a challenging application of OHS principles. It is also one of the few remaining industries were there is an us and them perspective on industrial relations and which is further complicated by the growing ethnic demographic of the industry.
The Australian taxi industry will be at the forefront of the application, or failure, of future IR and OHS laws. Major industry sectors such as mining, construction and the civil service may get the media attention through street marches, printed t-shirts and online campaigns but the rabble of taxi drivers who spontaneously protest over safety and security issues, who have poor rates of English literacy and work long hours is a sector that requires a different approach when discussing industrial relations and occupational safety.
The Parliamentary report sits now with the New South Wales Government awaiting response. New federal requirements come into effect in a matter of weeks. New OHS laws are only months away. Innovative OHS thinking for this industry sector needs to start now.