Cab drivers push for recognition as workers

Dependent contractor status leaves them unprotected when injured.

His taxi is where he works and Jeswinder Bedi says that should entitle him and other drivers to the same rights as other Ontarians under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.

“Driving a taxi is work, and this is our workplace,” he explains. “We are like truck drivers or train conductors or any of those transportation workers.”

The issue, according to Bedi, of the Ontario Taxiworkers Union, is the fact that most drivers are “dependent contractors” with taxi companies. In that relationship, he says owners are not required to follow provincial occupational health and safety rules when it comes to cabbies’ safety.

Taxi drivers in Ontario recently submitted proposals to the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Panel asking to be considered “workers” with coverage under the Act, given the dangerous conditions they’re often exposed to.

Bedi says cabbies work alone with cash at late hours of the night with an unpredictable clientele, all of which leaves them vulnerable to unsafe work conditions.

“We’re assaulted. Cab drivers have been murdered,” he says. “Last December, there were 18 cases of drivers being assaulted and injured, badly injured and lying in hospital.”

Because they are excluded from the Act, Bedi says drivers do not have the right to refuse work without fear of reprisal.

“If we don’t pick up a customer, we’re penalized. You’re disciplined for a day, a week or whatever. We don’t want to be out of work, so we have to pick them up,” he says. “But if we pick them up we are in danger.”

However, Bedi says unless drivers are completely independent contractors — with no affiliation to a broker — and therefore pay WSIB premiums, they do not have access to health benefits.

“Preventing assault is one thing, but what happens after the assault? The driver is lying in bed for a week or a month and there’s no source of income,” he says. “It stops right then.”

Bedi says the union has surveyed drivers in several communities, the majority of whom say they would be willing to pay premiums in exchange for health and safety coverage.

The union is also asking the Ministry of Labour to make pre-payment mandatory after dark and to make safety equipment the responsibility of brokers, rather than the individual driver.

Two years ago, WorkSafeBC added an amendment to its provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act for occupations falling under the “working alone or in isolation” category. As a result, taxi brokers are required to install a physical barrier between drivers and employees, and they must train drivers on safe money handling.

B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick also require employers to conduct a hazard assessment for specific groups of high-risk workers, including taxi drivers, because they work alone and handle money. Bedi would like to see similar regulations in Ontario.

Ontario’s Bill C-168, an amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety Act that adds legal definitions of “workplace violence” and “workplace harassment”, came into force in June. While taxi drivers are included in the Act, Peter Leibovitch, executive director of itaxiworkers Assn., says it stops short of offering protection.

“It doesn’t determine how that will be happening,” he says. “The onus is supposed to be on the employer to remove unsafe conditions in the first place, as opposed to doing something after the fact. It’s not clear who is responsible unless the driver is completely independent.”

Leibovitch hopes the panel will also apply any changes to the law province-wide, so all drivers and brokers follow the same rules.

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