Taxi drivers staging protests over frequent testing requirement

Ljubljana – Taxi drivers have been protesting since mid-February against the demand that they be tested for the new coronavirus every 72 hours. They have been expressing their discontent by driving around the Ljubljana city centre, honking and closing their call centres. They want Slovenia to follow Austria’s example and abolish the test requirement.

The trade union of taxi drivers has been noting that government decree on public transport has introduced significantly stricter criteria for taxi drivers than for other public transport providers.

“The rest can do their job in line with the recommendations of the National Institute for Public Health (NIJZ) without tests, while for taxi service tests are required every 72 hours,” said Saška Kiara Kumer from the trade union of transport and connections.

“We will respect the decree, we don’t want to interfere with expert criteria. But we want to point out that this is impractical and discriminatory compared to other public transport service providers,” Kumer said after yesterday’s protest during which more than a hundred taxis were honking their horns in the city centre.

Taxi service was conducted in line with all NIJZ recommendations in both waves of the epidemic without major outbreaks of infections, she added.

Taxi drivers currently generate only 20-40% of turnover compared to 2019 and they must still stand in the street for eight to ten hours a day, said the head of the drivers’ trade union, Dejan Jefim.

Most taxi drivers are freelancers, so they cannot rely on measures such as subsidies for shorter working hours or furlough while many have high costs of vehicle lease and fuel.

“It was ok for them to replace the entire public transport for a year, nobody asked them if they had protection. But now that the restrictions are easing, the government introduced the strictest measure for them, possibly in the world,” Jefim said.

Taxi drivers also have no priority in mass testing, like for example medical staff, teachers and employees in retail, which means they may wait up to two hours or more for testing.

“We demand to do business without testing, like for example in Austria. But if we are to be tested then it should be every seven days like in other activities,” said Jefim.

Another protest is planned for today. Taking part in the protest drive around the city centre will be the drivers who have been unable to get tested. After the protest, those who had acquired negative tests will continue providing taxi services.

The purpose of the protests is to raise awareness about this in public and put pressure on the government to make changes.

Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec told the press yesterday that the testing requirement for taxi drivers was essential for people’s safety. He said the same rule was in place for driving instructors, as in both cases two people were driving in one car.

He said he would invite taxi drivers for a meeting to hear their proposals. The trade union told the STA today they had not been contacted by the minister yet.