Association voices concern over taxi bylaws

via The Chronicle Herald

A Halifax taxi association’s call for minimum wage is raising questions as to whether or not cab drivers are considered independent contractors.

For more than a month, The United Cab Drivers Association of Halifax has been calling on the province to assist in regulating the number of taxis in HRM so that drivers can earn minimum wage. In the association’s latest press release, president Darshan Virk equates the HRM taxi industry to “economic slavery.”

On Tuesday, Virk sent a letter addressed directly to Geoff MacLellan, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

“(Drivers) feel voiceless, helpless, exploited and disappointed because of the unfair taxi bylaws passed by HRM,” read the release. He claims that city council has failed to address these issues and requested a meeting with the minister.

Virk’s call on the province follows 25 years of asking the city to place a cap on the number of limousines and accessible taxis operating to ensure the average driver can get enough customer calls to cover their expenses and make a decent living. Most recently, he sent letters to Halifax Mayor Mike Savage and Premier Stephen McNeil last April and May.

But in terms of providing a minimum wage to taxi drivers, the province’s department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal says this should already be in effect.

“Unless a cab driver is an independent contractor, the Labour Standards Code applies to the cab driver,” said spokesman Brian Taylor in an emailed statement on Wednesday. “Employees who are cab drivers are not exempt from the minimum wage regulations, therefore, they should receive at least minimum wage for all time worked.”

Taylor denied a request for an interview, stating that cabs in HRM are regulated, for the most part, by the municipality. He also added in his email statement that there are no plans to decrease or limit the availability of transportation to persons with disabilities.

Taxi drivers are often viewed as independent contractors because taxi companies do not pay their drivers directly. Instead, a taxi driver pays the company $7,644 a year for using the dispatch service and for using the company’s name on their roof light.

But Virk says the term “independent contractor” is tricky, given that there is little freedom in a driver’s day-to-day job. The company itself doesn’t apply these restrictions, but the city does.

Halifax’s municipal bylaw dictates how much a driver can charge a customer, how much they pay in insurance fees and the type of vehicle they drive. The bylaw also restricts a driver from driving outside of the municipal boundaries.

“We are regulated by the city; we are not independent contractors,” he said.

Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal spokesman Taylor added that an employee that does not receive minimum wage for their work can file a complaint with the Labour Standards office at 1-888-315-0110.

Original publish date: Jun. 3, 2016

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