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NT taxi drivers and transport workers worried about coronavirus infection risks at work


Posted

March 29, 2020 10:15:18

Taxi drivers say they are struggling to earn a living as passenger numbers plummet and many drivers fear pick-ups from airports due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key points:

  • Unions are concerned that transport workers are at risk of infection
  • Taxi drivers say they are avoiding airport pick-ups out of fear of coronavirus
  • NT buses have had the front row of seats removed to help protect drivers

Darwin taxi driver Raman Sekhon said he used to earn around $100 a day driving passengers across the city and picking up travellers from the airport.

But in recent weeks, he said his average hourly wage has dropped to just $7 an hour and had been lucky to earn $50 from a full day’s work since mid-March.

“We hardly make $100 a day in a 10-hour shift,” said Mr Sekhon.

“Only some people [are using taxis] and we see only 10 or 20 people coming from the plane. So you’re lucky in one hour [if] you’ll see one customer.”

Other drivers said they fear they will catch coronavirus at work, particularly from interstate passengers who are required to self-isolate upon their arrival into the Northern Territory.

“Everyone is afraid, it’s too dangerous,” said taxi driver Kazim Raza.

“If [the spread of the virus] gets very bad we’ll have to stop driving taxis. We’ll just stay home and self-isolate yourself, not go out.

“But there’s no other source of income. It’ll be hard to survive after.”

Taxi drivers hit by protective equipment shortages

The panic buying of personal hygiene products has left many drivers without access to hand sanitiser and gloves.

Blue Taxi Company owner Helen Pachos said she feared for the safety of her drivers.

She said she had already lost 50 per cent of her workforce.

“Despite all their willingness to still stay on the road and provide a service, we can’t access sanitisers, masks,” she said.

“What we have is what the drivers have self-sourced. It’s not adequate, it’s not enough.”

Ms Pachos said her company was trying to branch out to delivery services in order to keep drivers on the road and in work.

“We’re looking at ways to diversify,” said Ms Pachos.

“Parcel delivery, pharmaceuticals, the businesses transitioning to in-house delivery also, give us a call and we can all work together.”

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Changes made to public transport providers to manage risks

The NT Government has announced free bus travel across the Territory’s public transport network to eliminate the need for cash transactions.

Buslink, which operates the public bus system in Darwin, said the front seats in busses were being removed to maintain distance between passengers and drivers and daily cleaning and sanitisation would be carried out.

The company said its drivers had continued to show up to work “in such challenging times.”

“People rely on public transport to get to the shops, to get to medical appointments and to get to work, and therefore Buslink continues to work with and take direction from relevant Health and Public Transport authorities to do everything possible to keep drivers and passengers safe,” it said in a statement.

How do I get tested in the NT?

  • If you can’t contact or get to your GP, but you have the symptoms, you should call 1800 008 002
  • This is a dedicated NT-wide coronavirus (COVID-19) number for people who need to arrange testing only
  • If you live in Darwin and need to arrange testing, call the Public Health Unit on 8922 8044
  • Patients who are tested should remain isolated at home until they receive their test results
  • For general advice, Territorians can call 1800 020 080

Latest information from SecureNT website

Michael Kaine, from the Transport Workers Union, welcomed the changes but said there’s still room for improvement.

“We need to ensure that our drivers, who are on the frontline of this and in danger of prolonged exposure, are as safe as they can possibly be,” he said.

“We’d like to see physical spit screens; I know that doesn’t sound very nice but it’s a very practical thing that can be done to make sure that there’s a physical barrier between someone sneezing or coughing on the driver themselves.”

The NT has not had any recorded cases of community transmission of the virus.

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