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PROTEST PLIGHT


WAKEFIELD CABBIES PROTEST AGAINST SUITABILITY POLICY RESULTS IN POSITIVE DIALOGUE WITH COUNCIL


Dozens of cabbies protested peacefully outside Wakefield Town Hall, on Mon- day 19 July, calling for Wakefield Council to begin a dialogue with them over several policies. The Wakefield Express reports that the demonstration was led by the Wake- field Drivers Association (WDA), whose relationship with the council has been strained since its formation in early 2020. Among the grievances drivers have is the council’s suitability policy, which cabbies say means lengthy bans for those who accumulate seven points on their licence within three years. The WDA is also not formally recog- nised as a trade union by the council, which says that the suitability policy protects passengers. Further issues, including a perceived lack of financial support during Covid, also remain sticking points. Speaking ahead of the demonstration, WDA president Yasar Ahmed said: “It’s very sad we have had to resort to this protest when it would be simpler to have dialogue that can lead to a more amicable path to resolve these issues.” The new Conservative councillor for the Wakefield East ward, Akef Akbar, attended the protest in support of drivers and was heavily critical of the local authority. Cllr Akbar said: “The council should go back to the drawing board and amend policies to make them more balanced and fair to achieve justice. “I invite councillors making such policies to come and live a day in the life of a taxi driver and they will surely understand. They carry out one of the most danger- ous jobs and are always at risk. They are not appreciated enough.” The WDA says that the local authority’s suitability policy means that drivers face a five-year ban from the trade if they accumulate more than six points on their licence within a three-year period. The association claims this is unfair and dis- proportionately harsh, but the council


AUGUST 2021


has said its policy keeps passengers safe.


Labour councillor Kevin Swift, who is the chair of the Wakefield licensing committee, also addressed the demon- strators and Cllr Akbar praised Cllr Swift for attending the protest, telling drivers it showed that he “cared” about their concerns. On Tuesday, following the demonstra- tion, the Wakefield Drivers Association had a meeting with council leader Cllr Denise Jeffery (Lab) and Deputy Leader Cllr Jack Hemingway (Lab). The WDA told PHTM: “The Labour council leadership finally agreed to recognise Wakefield Drivers Associa- tion (WDA) as a trade organisation and as a representative for the trade. We also put forward that individual drivers or firms should also be entitled to address and/or attend trade related matters if they wished to act as inde- pendents. This is certainly a positive step enabling us and all relevant inter- ested parties to attend meetings with the council, as we will now formally be invited to attend future meetings. “Cllr Jeffery also assured us that our concerns have been forwarded to the newly selected WMDC Licensing Com- mittee and the Chairman Cllr Kevin Swift (Lab), who attended the demon- stration on Monday. “As for the policy changes, Cllr Jeffery stated that it was not in her jurisdiction as Council Leader but she will “ask” the


Licensing Committee to address them as a matter of urgency. She further stat- ed that only the Licensing Committee can pass legislation (presumably byelaws) and believes the new Licens- ing Committee which was only just formed the previous month (after the local elections) is prepared to listen to the taxi and PH trade’s concerns. “Three representatives from the taxi and private hire trade attended this meeting. We hope going forward more can openly attend for full transparency and more importantly, for discussion and debate to take effect with all rele- vant stakeholders, including licensed drivers, ensuring accountability, disclo- sure and full legal processes have been complied with. “Cllr Jeffery briefly apologised for the past conduct of the council and its staff and did assure us that the council will listen and work with us and all citizens in Wakefield going forward. The council (councillors) are elected on a term basis and are meant to serve the public of Wakefield in the best interests of the people and the city. “We trust that matters will move swiftly in the right direction after the summer recess as councillors and MPs enter the summer holidays, in the coming weeks. “There is a full council meeting in September 2021 and we hope that the council is serious about our genuine trade-related concerns and this meet- ing is not just an attempt to appease the local voters/electorate. “We have updated all trade drivers and will keep them informed if any genuine attempts have been made for progress and we will reconvene if any union action should be necessary. “We would like to thank the council and those councillors who attended the demonstration in showing their support and all drivers, local businesses, local councillors and union delegates for their efforts in supporting us the trade and WDA.”


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