Over 1,000 Chennai rickshaw and taxi drivers gathered outside DMS Labor Commissioner, Chennai, demanding ease of welfare board registration, better benefits and an application run by the state to replace the exorbitant Ola and Uber.
The protest was called under the banner of the Center of Indian Trade Union (CITU)-affiliated Auto-Taxi Workers Union on July 5.
A year ago, in July 2021, the union organized a big demonstration to present its demands to the new DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) government. More than a year later, workers say none of their demands have been heard by the government.
Drivers say the state government can bolster their livelihoods with simple measures, but they don’t want to.
The union reiterated its demand for a state-run app to counter private companies Ola and Uber and said it would be a win-win situation for all involved.
Balasubramanian, state chairman of the Auto-Taxi Workers Union, said, “If the government launched an app, we would get a stable salary, the public would spend less on travel, and the government would gain a good reputation.
He added: “They only get around Rs 15/km working for Ola and Uber who take double the amount set by the government; it can be avoided. Also, passengers pay more during peak hours, festival times and out-of-town trips, which can be avoided if the government runs an enforcement.
The government of Tamil Nadu had set a minimum fare of Rs 25 for the first 1.8 km and Rs 12 for the following in 2013. The negotiation to restructure the minimum fare is In progress.
“We have already submitted memoranda requiring a state-run application to the transport secretary, and he has proposed it to the government. But, they won’t; they say it would cost 200 crore rupees, and they don’t have the funds for it,” Balasubramanian said.
He added: “We urged them to take funds from the Welfare Board. The truth is that big business doesn’t allow it and the state doesn’t want to go against them.
The union has made demands to improve the condition of auto and taxi workers in Chennai.
“The government has distributed safety kits to 1,500 motorists. But there are 25,000 drivers across Tamil Nadu. It should be given to everyone, not as a token measure,” Balasubramanian said.
The kits included fire extinguishers, shoes, socks and uniforms.
The union has requested the incorporation of 200 more wards under the Chennai Division of the Revenue Department.
“As the state capital, all the benefits start from Chennai, and the drivers also benefit. It happens that those in the next street do not get any benefits like the kits as they fall under Kanchipuram or Thiruvallur district although they are also within the boundaries of the GCC,” Balasubramanian said.
The protesters were demanding a festival bonus in Tamil Nadu. Motor drivers registered in Pondicherry receive a festival bonus of Rs 1,000 twice a year during Diwali and Pongal.
Currently, the amount of the pension is Rs 1,000/month; motorists demand that it be increased to Rs 3,000.
Since the date of the pension application, the tax authorities take two years to process it, so the union demanded that the pension be counted from the date of the application and not from the date it was processed.
They are also calling for an increase in compensation for the family of rickshaw and taxi drivers in the event of natural death from Rs 50,000 to 2 lakh, and from Rs 1 lakh to 5 lakh in the event of accidental death.
A meager Rs 3,000 is provided once for the daughters of car drivers when they join the university and Rs 6,000 if they enter a hostel. The drivers are demanding an increase in this amount and an extension for their sons.
‘USE WELLNESS FUNDS
Automobile and taxi drivers must obtain approval from the Village Administrative Officer (VAO) or Revenue Officer (RO) to register with the revenue department.
Balasubramanian said, “Our ration cards must be ratified by them. Why? Everything can be confirmed online. Why should we wait so long? Sometimes it takes up to six months to meet the officer.
He added: “1% of our taxes goes to the welfare fund. But, it is used for other purposes. Although there is a government order against him, the government itself rescinds its order. They use it for flower vendors, loaders and other non-union workers.
“The previous government gave us COVID relief when we were hit hard by the second wave. The current DMK government has given us no relief,” he said.
Autorickshaw and taxi workers also appeal for relief funds during natural disasters.
“During the recent cyclone, none of us drove our cars for a week. The government could have given us Rs 500 from the welfare fund. But they didn’t,” Balasubramanian said.
The workers believe that the commission is not favorable to the workers. The union has informed that the welfare commission has funds of Rs 450 crore in its store. Currently, there are no employee representatives on the board.