Last week, the MP for Birkenhead, Frank Field, asked the Transport Minister “…if he will make an assessment of the potential merits of introducing legislation granting licensing authorities a statutory basis for creating minimum wage thresholds for drivers within the licensing criteria for private hire operators.”
In response, the DfT’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary Nusrat Ghani MP, said: “At a Westminster Hall Debate last year, the Rt Hon John Hayes MP announced the formation of a Task and Finish group to consider any taxi and private hire regulatory issues, their causes and potential remedies. The Group’s report was published on 24 September and it includes a chapter on industry working conditions. The Government response to the report will be published in due course.”
It is clear from the DfT’s response that it is not committing itself to any promises on action in relation to minimum wage requirements for the private hire sector. The general issue of improved working conditions is of course relevant to the public hire sector too. However, in reference to minimum wage requirements referred to by the Birkenhead MP, there is an important difference; taxis are generally self-employed whereas private hire drivers work for a licensed operator – granted that the operator/driver arrangements vary from very formal arrangements (i.e. directly employed) to informal (i.e. radio hire only).
The Birkenhead MP suggested that the power to set minimum wage requirements for the private hire sector should be the responsibility of local licensing authorities. This immediately raises questions about the local licensing authority’s expertise in setting such a wage level. Additionally, locally set wage standards will again raise issues of national standards and likely to aggravate cross-border hiring (because drivers will be attracted to where wages are highest) to mention a few obvious difficulties.
The task and finish group’s report picked up on this matter too stating: “It is outside the expertise and scope of a local licensing authority to determine the employment status of drivers working with its licensed PHV operators.” It is right to say that minimum wage requirements for the private hire sector should rightly be a national government duty to ensure fairness across the sector.
Whilst it is unlikely that that local councils will be given the power to set minimum wage levels for their private hire drivers, licensed operators can lose their operating licences of they do not comply with their legal requirements with regards to employment law and National Living Wage legislation.
There are no known cases of a private hire operator losing their licence specifically over matters of employment law and wage requirements. However, the issue of workers rights and conditions in the taxi and private hire sector is becoming an increasingly prominent issue in the capital but elsewhere in the country. It is clearly sufficiently prominent to be raised in a Parliamentary debate and we anticipate more local action until such a time as the DfT acts on the Task & Finish Group’s recommendations.