27 January 2011

Namibia: Taxi Strike Called Off, Drivers Get Unionised

THE TAXI strike this week mobilised many drivers who feel their interests are not represented by the Namibia Bus and Taxi Association (Nabta).

Yesterday, members of the ad-hoc committee, which was born out of the strike this week, met with union leader Evilastus Kaaronda, who was accused in some quarters of interfering in the strike that had nothing to do with his union.

Kaaronda, secretary general of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), has consistently been at hand, advising the striking drivers on organising themselves and talking on their behalf to various authorities this week.

Kaaronda said yesterday the goal of the meeting was to "assist them to map the way forward".

The committee members present at the meeting with Kaaronda were Jerobeam Shipepe, Josef Kalimbo, Joseph Salomo and Martin Kondjeni. They were elected on the ground in Katutura during the strike, in order to present a unified and organised front.

According to the committee, it is time that taxi divers, not just taxi owners, are represented by an organisation.

The members confirmed that part of the meeting with Kaaronda was aimed at gauging the general feeling among taxi drivers about forming their own association, which would take up their concerns.

"We plan to have either a union or an association to represent us," one of the members said.

They emphasised that their positions on the committee are unofficial and temporary.

The committee members said there is "no division between us and Nabta" but added that Nabta leaders are embroiled in internal conflicts. Communication lacks in Nabta ranks and this draws the focus away from the day-to-day concerns of taxi drivers, they said.

They said whether it is Nabta or a new organisation or union, the primary goal is to create a body that will "stand by us".

The committee members say Nabta does little, if anything, to inform taxi drivers of the association's functions.

"How can you join Nabta if you don't know anything about the organisation?" they asked.

For now, the strike is over, they confirmed.

But, "we won't stop to try and achieve our goal". They say they will wait until Tuesday, and resume the strike if their demands have not been met.

Their demands they say, rest on three points.

The first two points concern the high fines issued for obstructing traffic and for operating without the so-called "blue paper" - a permit from the City of Windhoek allowing the transport of passengers for a fee.

They claim that a critical lack of taxi ranks in Windhoek and surrounding areas make it impossible for taxis to stop at legal points to pick up passengers. For this reason, the City of Windhoek has to either lower the fines or provide sufficient taxi ranks.

Taxi drivers are often fined for operating without the "blue paper". The "blue paper", and the professional authorisation (PA) required on taxi drivers' driving licences, are interlinked in that the one cannot be obtained without the other.

But the drivers claim that it can take longer than six months to obtain both endorsements.

A committee member said the process should be simplified and applications processed faster.

"We are not against seat-belt fines, red-light fines or speeding fines, but we are against the things we specify. We want the municipality to supply more taxi ranks, and the municipality must begin to educate customers on the cost of hiring a taxi," they concluded yesterday.

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