Limo drivers sued for refusing 'illegal' service

Disgruntled drivers of limousine company Wolero posing beside two of the company's Mercedes cars. They say they are acting on advice from the Land Transport Authority that "individual parties are not allowed to lease/rent private hire cars from car r
Disgruntled drivers of limousine company Wolero posing beside two of the company's Mercedes cars. They say they are acting on advice from the Land Transport Authority that "individual parties are not allowed to lease/rent private hire cars from car rental or limousine service companies to convey members of (the) public on hire and reward terms".PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER TAN

Wolero denies its practice breaches the law; some drivers face lawsuits of over $100k each for terminating contract

A limousine company which services high-net-worth and VIP customers is suing a number of its chauffeurs for terminating their contracts with the firm.

Wolero Pte Ltd - set up by former employees of defunct cab operator Smart Taxis - rents out its fleet of about 130 Mercedes and Audis to private hirers who provide chauffeur services, mostly to bankers and their private clients.

The hirers are promised 110 trips a month at $35 each. The sum at the end of the month will then offset the rental charge for the vehicle.

However, alerted by recent reports on limo services provided by taxi apps companies, a few Wolero hirers decided to check with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) if what they were doing was legal.

In response, the LTA said in a letter to a driver that "individual parties are not allowed to lease/rent private hire cars from car rental or limousine service companies to convey members of (the) public on hire and reward terms".

The authority advised Wolero hirers "to stop your practice and return the vehicles" to the company.

That is what some of them did and, in response, the company sued them for cutting short their three-year contracts.

Mr Sylvester Lim, 38, an ex-cabby who joined Wolero's scheme last December, faces a suit amounting to nearly $110,000.

"I joined because a friend told me I get to drive a new car, and I don't have to look for jobs," he said.

Another hirer-driver, Mr Noorazman Mohd Ali, 39, is being sued for close to $180,000.

Mr Samsuri Hussain, 37, another ex-cabby who faces a $104,000 suit, said Wolero has not been able to deliver 110 jobs a month. "I've not been making money for the last eight months. All of us are just trying to make a living. To have them treat us this way is uncalled for."

Speaking on behalf of 20 to 30 drivers who want to quit because of the LTA's advice, but are afraid of being sued, Mr Samsuri said: "In contract law, if a practice leads you to break the law, then the contract is void."

He said that despite being shown the LTA's response, Wolero directors "are adamant that their practice is not illegal".

Wolero managing director Johannes van Roosmalen told The Straits Times: "The LTA is wrong. There is no such law." And if there was such a law, he said "it should be amended to give the market some clarity".

He added: "In business, there are people who can make it, and people who can't make it. People who can't make it will find excuses to quit."

He claimed that the company was able to assign 110 jobs a month most of the time, but there were instances when a hirer-driver turned down jobs because the timing was not convenient.

When asked if the company promised its hirers flexible hours, he retorted: "How can a taxi driver make money with flexible hours?"

Mr van Roosmalen denied that the company was high-handed in suing its hirers. "We're difficult only if they are difficult to us," he said.

Wolero's lawyer, Mr Ismail Atan, from Salem Ibrahim LLC, said "what's important here is that the insurance policy for the cars covers all the situations" a chauffeured service encounters.

General Insurance Association executive director Derek Teo said policies covering "hire and reward" vehicles are typically higher to reflect the risks involved. But he added that "if the cover is for something that is in breach of some statutory law, then it might be void".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2015, with the headline 'Limo drivers sued for refusing 'illegal' service'. Print Edition | Subscribe