Taxi drivers protest outside Wakefield Town Hall as councillor claims they've been treated like 'third-class citizens'
Taxi drivers have demonstrated outside Wakefield Town Hall this morning (Monday), amid a row with the local council over several policies.
Dozens of cabbies protested peacefully on Wood Street in the city centre between 11am and 1pm and called for Wakefield Council to begin a dialogue with them.
The demonstration was led by the Wakefield Drivers Association (WDA), whose relationship with the council has been strained since it was formed 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 recognised as a trade union by the council, who say that the suitability policy protects passengers.
Issues raised previously, including a perceived lack of financial support during the Covid pandemic, also remain sticking points.
However, the Wakefield District Private Hire and Hackney Carriage Association (WDHCPHA), which also represents a large number of local drivers and is recognised by the council, condemned the protest, calling it "misguided".
But speaking ahead of the demonstration, WDA president Yasar Ahmed said: "It’s very sad we have had to resort to organise a protest when it would be more simpler having a worthwhile dialogue that can lead to a more amicable path to go down in order to resolve these issues.
"Our members provide an essential service to the members of the public, without which our customers would find it difficult to travel."
"We want to work in partnership with the council to ensure that we have a vibrant Wakefield district.
"But for this to happen the council officials involved need to enter into dialogue with us in a meaningful and fair manner, but as things stand at this moment in time we have been excluded from having any input on matters that have impacted on.
"This is highly unfair and demoralising".
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.
Addressing those gathered through a megaphone, Coun Akbar said: "I understand how you pick up disabled passengers, how you do the hospital and school runs.
"I also understand how you take care of drunk and vulnerable people on a night and how you get them home safely.
"I'm not scared to say it. You're not appreciated. You're treated as third-class citizens."
Coun Akbar said later: "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.
"The taxi trade has worked throughout the Covid pandemic risking their lives. "They carry out one of the most dangerous 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 union claims this is unfair and disproportionately harsh, but the council has said its policy keeps passengers safe.
The protesters are understood to have been offered a meeting with council leader Denise Jeffery on Tuesday, though the local authority has yet to confirm that.
Labour councillor Kevin Swift, who is the chair of the Wakefield licensing committee, also addressed the demonstrators.
The committee sets policies for the local taxi trade, apart from areas where national guidance has to be followed.
Coun Swift told those gathered: "Having been chair of the licensing committee for two months and not having been a member of it before, I'm humble about my levels of knowledge and understanding.
"I understand that the leader of the council is meeting you tomorrow, which I obviously hope will improve things.
"I'd like to thank you for coming along, and I wish you all well."
Coun Akbar praised Coun Swift for attending the protest, telling drivers it showed that he "cared" about their concerns.
However, the WDHCPCA stated they were opposed to both the timing of the demonstration and the grounds on which it was led.
The union's chair, Abdul Rehman said that to, "Hold a protest on the day that Covid restrictions are further relaxed, when infection rates in the town are already at an all-time high is misguided.
"It could result in the virus spreading even further, particularly amongst members of the trade."
Mr Rehman also said that the council was following government rules with its stance on the controversial suitability policy, adding: "If protest about this should be directed to anyone, it should be directed to the Department of Transport or the government, and not Wakefield Council.
Glynn Humphries, the council's service director for communities, said: “We are committed to working with the trade through regular dialogue with the Wakefield Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Association.
"Championing passenger safety is the highest priority including measures that protect the health and wellbeing of the travelling public which the council’s policies are designed to support."
Local Democracy Reporting Service