Cabbies protest out-of-town drivers taking Welwyn Garden City business

PUBLISHED: 09:36 17 July 2018 | UPDATED: 09:36 17 July 2018

Welwyn Hatfield taxi drivers stage a protest in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: DANNY LOO

Welwyn Hatfield taxi drivers stage a protest in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: DANNY LOO

©2018 Danny Loo Photography - all rights reserved

Cabbies working with a leading WGC private hire company held a day of work stoppage in protest of their employment conditions.

Welwyn Hatfield Times reporter Mia Jankowicz speaks to a union representative of Welwyn Hatfield taxi drivers as they stage a protest in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: DANNY LOOWelwyn Hatfield Times reporter Mia Jankowicz speaks to a union representative of Welwyn Hatfield taxi drivers as they stage a protest in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: DANNY LOO

The self-employed private hire drivers, all members of Welwyn Hatfield Taxi Drivers’ Union, were demonstrating about the terms of their work with AAA Taxis, one of the largest cab companies in the borough.

The protest had the backing of national workers’ union GMB.

On Tuesday, July 3, dozens of drivers gathered at Mundells with their cars and GMB flags.

The protesters say over 100 drivers attended.

Welwyn Hatfield taxi drivers stage a protest in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: DANNY LOOWelwyn Hatfield taxi drivers stage a protest in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: DANNY LOO

“If there’s no drivers, there’s no AAA,” said one driver.

The cabbies were objecting to AAA’s use of drivers licensed by Transport for London (TfL) for Welwyn Hatfield jobs, which they say is eating into their business.

One driver said his takings had plummeted by between 60 to 70 per cent in recent months.

GMB say that under a process called triple licensing, the operator, driver and vehicle should all come from the area the job was called from.

Welwyn Hatfield taxi drivers stage a protest in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: DANNY LOOWelwyn Hatfield taxi drivers stage a protest in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: DANNY LOO

However, the law changed nationally in 2015 following the Deregulation Act, allowing operators to sub-contract jobs across local authority borders.

The drivers protesting at Mundells said they want more scrutiny on cross-border hiring of drivers as a national issue.

A spokesperson for AAA, which has offices serving Potters Bar, Hatfield, WGC, Borehamwood, Hertford and St Albans, said: “We operate within the national and local guidelines for licensing.”

Welwyn Hatfield-based drivers with AAA pay the company between £90 and £100 per week to access its bookings, and believe that the company takes similar fees from London drivers.

Welwyn Hatfield taxi drivers stage a protest in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: DANNY LOOWelwyn Hatfield taxi drivers stage a protest in Welwyn Garden City. Picture: DANNY LOO

Either way, one driver told the WHT: “The more drivers they get, the more money they get.”

He added: “So we’re the ones who suffer.”

“They [AAA] don’t care about their drivers any more,” said another anonymous driver at the Mundells demonstration.

Steve Garelick, regional officer for GMB, also attended the protest on Tuesday, July 3.

“It takes a lot for drivers to protest like this,” he said.

“The guys here need a quality of life and they need to be able to earn an income.”

He added the TfL-licensed drivers “don’t know the area, and they don’t know the clientele”.

He expressed particular concern about the possibility that contracts for the school run could be subcontracted to non-local drivers.

The demonstrating drivers say that AAA has not responded to their ongoing attempts to discuss the situation, prompting the protest.

“Nothing has been talked about, they just ignore us,” said one driver.

A spokesperson for AAA responded to say that they regularly discuss issues with drivers on an individual and group basis.

On the day of the protest, AAA declined to comment, but told the WHT: “As far as we’re concerned it’s business as usual for our customers.”

The impact of cross-border hiring of drivers has been a point of discussion between cabbies since the Deregulation Act came in, and is not unique to AAA.

A spokesperson for Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, which oversees taxi and private hire licensing, said in response to the drivers’ calls for greater scrutiny:

“This has become a problem for drivers across the country and we’ve been supporting the lobbying at a national level calling for the law change to be looked at again.

“We’ve also been working closely with TfL over many months to investigate operator activity in London and hope to make a further announcement soon.”

As a next step, the drivers are planning to arrange a meeting with Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps to discuss their concerns about how the Deregulation Act is impacting them.

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