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The cabbie who shook-up the NSW taxi industry

By Jefferson Lee - posted Wednesday, 29 December 2010


Until his sudden death from pneumonia on Christmas eve last at Sydney's RPA Hospital, Faruque Ahmed, the 51 year old, fire-brand, taxi driver of Bangladeshi background, was widely regarded as the leading figure in the New South Wales Taxi Industry. But he was at the opposite end of the pole from Taxi Council boss, his arch rival, Reg Kermode.

Agitation amongst cabbies, through on-line web sites, pamphlets, newsletters, union rank and file meetings, talk back radio, industrial and civil courts, even Parliament House itself, were all arenas and methods employed by Ahmed Faruque over a twenty four year period, in what was regarded as a personal and unrelenting mission to see justice done for Sydney's long exploited "bailee" or non-owner taxi drivers. Sadly he did not live to see the fruits of his labour as drivers wait for the wash out from the 2010 Upper House Parliamentary Inquiry into the industry to be implemented to their advantage after the March 2011 NSW elections..

Faruque was born into a middle class family in Dacca in Bangladesh. He is survived by two brothers and two sisters there who have requested his body be returned for burial in his homeland after a service (28/12/10) for him at the Lakemba Mosque.

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Faruque's initial voyage to Australia was not by design but as a political refugee. After matriculation in his homeland he faced threats to his personal safety when he became involved in militant trade union groups under Bangladesh's military influenced government in the 1970s.

He escaped to Iraq, of all places, where he worked as a labourer in the petroleum industry from 1978-82 until he was deported by Saddam's secret police for attempting to organise democratic rights for the workers . He then came to Australia and settled here quickly as a migrant.

His first jobs were in refineries at Kurnell and Silverwater . He left the industry in the mid 1980s after a dispute involving safety issues. He became a cabbie and worked first at Burgess base in Enmore Road in 1987-88.

In 1991-92 he joined the Transport Workers Union Taxi Driver's Steering Committee during a TWU recruitment phase. When it was clear that many of the other cabbies who joined the Union did not receive postal ballot papers for the election, a recall saw Faruque's Steering Committee members sweep the new election.

In the early 1990's the former Mayor of Woollahra, Hilda Rolfe was appointed as a Commissioner on the Trade Practices Commission. She was appointed by the State Government to investigate the conditions of owner-driver lorry drivers in NSW.

Against the TWU Union's wishes Faruque and other Steering Committee members put in a joint submission, and individual submissions, to this Rolfe Inquiry on behalf of bailee drivers.

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Commissioner Rolfe described Faruque as a "fiery cannon" but accepted his claims and recommended to the Greiner Liberal Government that Chapter 6 of the (1991) Industrial Relations Act in NSW should be amended to include an "anti-victimization" clause to protect bailee drivers from owners imposing harsh and unfair working conditions on their employment. Under the new Act owners could be "criminally liable" for mistreatment and harassment.

With other drivers Faruque was instrumental in shifting the industrial relations landscape of the annual contract determination for the taxi industry, in one year appealing to the Full Bench of the IRC (Matter 67-87 IRC 1993) where although they lost the appeal, a redirection was ordered upon IRC Commissioner Connor in the lower court over the contract determination.

Labor Party Transport Minister Brian Langdon accepted pressure from Faruque's lobby group of cabbies over the safety for drivers issue.

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About the Author

Jefferson Lee, a personal friend of Faruque Ahmed through the "Politics in The Pub" organisation and the NSW taxi industry is a part time cabbie and works as a Sydney correspondent for Reporters Without Frontiers. He has written several books on Australia and Asia, focusing on Canbodia and Timor Leste.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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