Are private hire taxis killing a people’s future?

By Benjamin Chiang

The article below was drafted in reaction to this report on ChannelNewsAsia: "Flexibility, being your own boss, decent income: Why younger people are working as private hire drivers."

There are some people who are against the trade of private hire for this reason: they think it kills an individual’s employability and retirement adequacy.

Devadas Krishnadas posted the following on his LinkedIn page: “These jobs (referring to gigs such as private hire driving) have no professional value. Even plying the roads consumes vast amounts of energy… yet these drivers refer to themselves as their own bosses.

“In truth, the real beneficiaries are the ride hailing companies all gunning for blockbuster IPO listings. Drivers constitute a free labour force for which they have no responsibility or liability.”

“While a number of drivers drive on a short term basis, for an increasing number it is becoming a long term proposition. As time passes and they continue driving their employability get eroded.”

Devadas thinks that drivers are being made used of. That long-term exposure to gigs, such as private hire driving, would reduce their employability and eventually see them completely being wiped out when technologies such as driverless cars replace them.

His comment drew the reply of Rio Hoe, a trainee solicitor in London and a regular contributor to the Five Stars and a Moon online publication.

“I don’t think any of these individuals are blind to these limitations – surely no Grab driver expects to become a manager at Grab by starting out as a driver,” says Rio.

“In fact, one could argue that the fact that young people still take up these jobs *despite* the lack of professional development demonstrates that they value aspects of the job such as autonomy and flexible hours to such an extent that it outweighs the repetitiveness and the career limitations of a private hire driver.

Rio makes a very good suggestion: “Therefore, perhaps the solution to retaining talent and avoiding “waste” is for companies to try to accommodate the changing demands of today’s generation of workers.“

I have made several trips on Grab in the past and perhaps out of influence of my job, I always ask them why they chose to be private hire drivers.

Yes, the reflex answer is flexibility and freedom. But you have to dig deeper. Many, many of them also double as real estate or insurance agents and driving provides them with a captive audience and an opportunity to network.

Several I met are pursuing their hobbies, trying to turn professional in them. I have met photographers, artists, designers, programmers who are working on their next killer project. All these people would not have had the time and freedom to do these had they engaged in full-time work.

Some are building a fledgling business that hasn’t become profitable yet. Driving helps to temporarily quench parched wallets.

If they were to pursue “normal” jobs, not only do you lose out on the opportunity to pursue a true love, you also get trapped in the same skills retardation problem. If you are merely an executive in company XYZ, what are the odds of rising to eventually become Chief of XYZ?

Very low.

Sure, you end your career with a quantum saved via CPF contributions that is perhaps barely sufficient for retirement. But you lost out on building an empire. You lost out on living a life.

“So while I believe that Uber does not provide an ideal working environment for its drivers, we cannot ignore the fact that these drivers, being free-acting economic agents who are fully aware of their limited employee rights and benefits, have chosen to be drivers nonetheless. Why? Because Uber provides a convenient and flexible source of supplemental income and unlike contracted work, they can cease being private hire drivers almost immediately once they find new jobs,” says Rio.

This article first appeared on Five Stars And A Moon. It is reproduced with permission.


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