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Ahmed, Faruque (1959–2010)

by Malcolm Brown

There was no stopping Faruque Ahmed. When he saw injustice, he spoke up, even taking on the fearsome regime of Saddam Hussein when, as an oil industry worker in Iraq, he campaigned as a trade unionist. He was a radical in the oil refinery industry in Australia, and when he became a Sydney taxi driver, fought a tireless campaign for a better deal for the state's 12,000 ''bailee'', or non-owner, taxi drivers, setting him against the NSW Taxi Council.

Jefferson Lee, a Sydney journalist who was a close friend of Ahmed, said: ''He worked through online websites, distributing pamphlets and newsletters, attended union meetings, appeared on talkback radio, was involved in hearings in industrial and civil courts and even went to Parliament House.'' At the end of Ahmed's life, the NSW Legislative Council inquiry into the industry was still to make its findings.

Faruque Ahmed was born into a middle-class family in Sylhet, Bangladesh, on February 25, 1959. He completed his schooling and became involved in militant trade union activity, which brought him into serious disfavour with the government. Fleeing Bangladesh, he settled in Iraq, where he worked in the petroleum industry from 1978 to 1982. His attempt to organise democratic rights for workers brought him to the attention of the secret police, and he was expelled from the country. He landed in Australia.

Ahmed worked in refineries in Kurnell and Silverwater, became involved in safety issues and left, deciding in 1987 to become a taxi driver. In 1991 he joined the Transport Workers Union and became a member of its taxi drivers' steering committee. He discovered that in the union election for office bearers, taxi drivers were not getting ballot papers. When another election was held, he and members of the steering committee took power.

In the early 1990s, Ahmed and fellow drivers made a submission that a Trade Practice Commission inquiry into lorry owner-drivers in NSW be extended to include taxi bailee drivers, who had complained of harsh and unfair conditions. The inquiry recommended to the Greiner government that it amend the Industrial Relations Act so that an ''anti-victimisation clause'' be included to protect bailee drivers.

Ahmed and other drivers campaigned on the issue of the annual contract determination between taxi owners and bailee drivers, which took them to the Appeal Court of the Industrial Relations Commission. The Ahmed group took up the issue of driver safety with the then NSW transport minister, Brian Langton, who ordered a review of the matter by a Victorian company, Keatsdale.

Keatsdale recommended the installation of cameras in taxis, screens and GPS satellite tracking. The NSW government refused to release the report.

Ahmed and another driver then filed a Freedom of Information request against the Department of Motor Transport. Jefferson Lee said that within hours, the Taxi Council, the TWU and the NSW government were all appearing on the evening news declaring that they would implement a new safety package for the industry.

Ahmed also became known throughout Sydney for his provocative stands on Middle East politics, particularly the Iraq War and Palestine, and media coverage of Muslim and Arabic affairs. He sometimes attended meetings of the free-thought group, Politics in the Pub, in Surry Hills.

''He was a regular contributor to late-night radio talkback in Sydney,'' Lee said. ''His depth of knowledge, accent and provocative style constantly got him into trouble with individual shock jocks. He made constant complaints – alleging racism and religious intolerance – against many programmers. On one occasion he was arraigned in the Administrative Appeals Court with six barristers defending the Macquarie Network over allegations of racial vilification. Although he lost the case, the network was ordered to pay their own extensive legal costs.''

Ahmed and his colleagues believed the NSW Taxi Council, under secretary-treasurer, Steve Hutchens, was too close to NSW Labor governments.

Ahmed became a founding member of the NSW Taxi Drivers Association as well as of the NSW Cabbie Welfare Association.

The independent stand was successful in a 2006 case against Cabcharge before the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Ahmed died of pneumonia on Christmas Eve. On December 28, his body was washed, placed in a casket and viewed by hundreds of friends before being carried shoulder high for a crowded funeral at the Lakemba Mosque. It was taken to the airport, where he was sent home to his two brothers and two sisters in Bangladesh for burial.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 January 2011

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Ahmed, Faruque (1959–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/ahmed-faruque-16831/text28726, accessed 24 November 2017.

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