Freedom News

Proposed new rules for licensed private hire drivers are racist, disproportionate, and misguided

The App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) condemns proposed new rules from West Northamptonshire Council as racist, disproportionate, misguided and counterproductive. The council has opened a consultation on the proposed new rules which remains open until March 26, 2023.

ADCU Northampton members will be staging a demonstration against the West Northamptonshire Council on February 23rd with drivers assembling at the Victoria Street car park in Northampton from 10:30am.

Racist policy from West Northamptonshire Council

The new rules unfairly targets the industry’s overwhelmingly minority and migrant worker demographic by demanding that all licensees now present the council with certificates of good conduct issued by foreign authorities for all periods of 3 months or more spent outside the UK since the age of 18. This is an unnecessary, impractical and disproportionate imposition on Northampton’s hard-working minicab drivers. Worse, it is a racist and xenophobic policy measure that unfairly singles out migrant workers or those who have close family ties abroad especially in the South Asia region. The requirement will be practically impossible to fulfil for many and in some cases, it could place those who escaped repressive regimes in serious danger.

Other new rules are so vague that they defy definition and, as such, may be used to target minority workers for unfair penalisation. For example, drivers can be penalised for “not behaving in a civil and orderly manner” without defining what constitutes such behaviour.  Drivers can also be penalised for “parking in a position or location which gives the appearance of being for hire”, a requirement that is impossible to objectively define which leaves the measure open to abuse by authorities and minority workers vulnerable to further discrimination.  

In addition, the policy’s new convictions policy is unduly harsh and amounts to an intrusive attack on civil liberties. For example, the Council goes beyond actual convictions to treat cautions, fixed penalties and community resolutions as if they were actual convictions. Private hire operator employers are now required to keep a log of and report to the police their mere suspicions of driver involvement in terrorism regardless of how unlikely or unhinged such suspicions might be. This places minority workers under constant scrutiny and disproportionate surveillance by police and intelligence services without due cause.

Council colludes with big business to deny worker rights.

Although the stated aim of the council’s proposed policy and the statutory guidance from central government is to promote and protect the safety, the policy actually seeks to inappropriately shift performance management responsibility from licensed operators as employers to the council as regulator.  

For example, drivers can face licensing action for not being ‘clean and respectable in their dress’ or ‘not complying with the dress code’ or ‘failing to offer reasonable assistance with luggage.’  Such performance factors have zero impact on passenger safety and should not be subject to regulatory enforcement.

In 2021, the ADCU won an employment rights claim against Northampton operator Bounds on behalf of union members employed by Bounds as drivers. The proposed new rules will allow operators to effectively outsource workforce management to the Council so they can misclassify workers as self employed and thereby deny workers their rights and avoid paying taxes. Astonishingly, the new rules fails to impose a single requirement on licensed operators to obey employment and taxation law as a condition of licensing.

No meaningful focus on passenger and driver safety

Despite safety being the primary regulatory purpose, the proposed new rules are hopelessly weak on safety and security for drivers, their passengers and other road users. While the Council rightly demands new requirements for safeguarding and equalities training, the council fails to introduce any requirements on licensed operators for the occupational safety of their drivers. For example, licensed operators are not required to provide first aid equipment or training for drivers. Neither are they compelled to keep records on assaults and abuse of working drivers despite an industry wide epidemic of workplace violence and abuse which in turn sees women only make up around 2% of the workforce.

Drivers convicted of using a mobile phone whilst driving face revocation and a 5-year ban, yet the DVLA penalty for such offence is just 6 points.  Such a licensing ban for the use of a mobile phone is clearly disproportionate considering that the council also plans a 5-year ban for drug offence convictions which are obviously more serious. Tellingly, private hire operators, who’s business models are increasingly reliant on mobile phone technology face no risk assessment or regulatory scrutiny for their business practices and processes which increasingly rely on mobile technology. However, drivers face increasing pressure from operators to interact with mobile phones to accept work, communicate with passengers and administer bookings on behalf of operators. This has been a deliberate choice by operators to increase their profits by shifting the workload to drivers via mobile technology.

Shafqat Shah, Northampton Chair of ADCU said:

The council’s proposed new rules for our trade are ill thought out and represents a missed once in a generation opportunity to markedly improve safety and quality of the trade for drivers and passengers. Instead of focusing on what matters most for the future of the trade, the council appears to instead have made it a priority to shield bad minicab bosses from worker rights claims while putting safety on the back burner.

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