Brussels Airport taxi drivers strike against Dutch language requirement

Taxi drivers at Brussels Airport in Zaventem think the mandatory language requirements are too strict, so they went on strike for two and a half hours last Friday.

The Flemish government wants to impose an oral and written test of Dutch (level B1) on drivers from 1 July 2024. “The bar is far too high,” says Pierre Steenberghen, secretary-general of the National Grouping of Taxi Companies – those who fail the test risk losing their driver’s license in Flanders.

Bread theft

According to Steenberghen, 80% of taxi drivers fail the Dutch level B1 written test, which is also the level expected of Flemish civil servants. The organization, therefore, advocates basic knowledge level A2, as in other countries. Still, according to him, 90% of taxi customers at the airport are English-speaking. “The drivers there do not even have the chance to practice their Dutch,” he says.

Steenberghen also points out that the language requirement does not apply, for example, to drivers at transport company De Lijn or to Uber drivers serving the airport from Brussels. “It seems like taxi drivers are being targeted. People working in the sector for years are likely to lose their jobs. That is bread theft.”

400 taxi drivers

Taxi drivers in the rest of Flanders, such as in Antwerp, Ghent, or Bruges, must also take a language exam and risk getting into trouble, Steenberghen believes. With the tight labor market and the 240 hours of lessons drivers must take, Steenberghen fears there will be “no more taxis on the road”.

According to Steenberghen, 400 taxi drivers with a Flemish license are working on arrivals at Brussels Airport – drivers with a Brussels license are not subject to the Flemish language requirements. He called the taxi sector “the most diverse sector in Flanders, with many people from different backgrounds”.

The taxi industry representative hopes the measure will still be adjusted. For example, Steenberghen suggests dropping the written exam or giving people already working as taxi drivers before 2020 an exemption.

The cabinet of Flemish Mobility Minister Lydia Peeters (Open Vld) says the taxi drivers’ proposals are being looked at. Any relaxation of the rules will be discussed with the Flemish government after the Christmas holidays.

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