Drivers plot Uber Eats app boycott amid looming protest

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 21 Jan 2021

Disgruntled Uber Eats delivery partner drivers are planning a nationwide shutdown of courier services tomorrow, in protest against significantly reduced delivery fees and what they call “slavery” treatment.

Uber Eats delivery drivers, who use scooters and vehicles for deliveries, have requested customers to join the protest by boycotting the Uber Eats mobile app tomorrow.

The threat to shut down all Uber Eats courier services on 22 January comes after the Uber-owned food delivery and freight service in December introduced discounted rates for customers.

The new promotion, according to the drivers, resulted in them taking home significantly reduced earnings – up to 30% less than what they were earning prior to the introduction of the promotion.

Last year, the food delivery service partnered with several local retailers to offer delivery services of products to customers during the nation-wide lockdown.

The Uber Eats food delivery and freight services drivers are currently being paid R10 per delivery, plus R4 per 1.6km. They are demanding R20 for the first 2km, plus R6 after that.

In a written memorandum sent to Uber and seen by ITWeb, the drivers say in addition to the low wages, they are unhappy about a number of other issues, including the constant influx of new delivery drivers, the blocking of drivers for no reason and slow in-app support during deliveries. They also want Uber to stop flagging accounts when correct cancellation procedures have been followed.

Duane Bernard, delivery driver and spokesperson for Uber Driver Partners SA, which represents Uber delivery drivers, told ITWeb they are “fed-up” with Uber Eats ignoring their request to negotiate the delivery fees, and they now have no choice but to go offline tomorrow and stage pickets outside major restaurants across the country.

“About 80% of the estimated 2 000 drivers from all provinces have sent messages to confirm they will be joining the protest. This includes Uber X drivers who also deliver for Uber Eats.

“Uber Eats has taken advantage of the fact that many drivers are foreign nationals and have thought that drivers joining the platform did so ignorantly out of desperation. We are constantly running around getting goods from point A to B for close to nothing. They have gradually lowered our rates over the years, while inflation and their profit margins go up. We take their action as an insult and we say no more to this slavery treatment,” says Bernard.

Price-sensitive consumers

Shortly after the reduced rates were introduced in December, a small group of Gauteng-based delivery drivers downed tools over two days. According to Bernard, Uber Eats management met and engaged with Gauteng-based drivers at the time, and promised to address some of their grievances.

While some of the grievances have been attended to, the most important one − the increase of delivery rates − has not been addressed, he notes. “Tomorrow’s strike action is to show them the important role of delivery partners. We also ask customers to stand in solidarity with protesting drivers and to not order any food from Uber Eats tomorrow.”

In response, Uber says SA has seen a number of challenges in the last year and, based on its data, consumers are more price-sensitive than ever before – this led to the introduction of reduced delivery fees, designed to help delivery-drivers by boosting user demand.

“For our business to remain sustainable for customers, restaurants and delivery-drivers, we needed to implement sustainable changes to our fee structure as fewer orders from customers mean less earning opportunities for all. Therefore, we recently introduced a more affordable delivery charge structure across SA, meaning all customers, no matter the city, have access to affordable options nearby while maintaining access to restaurants further away at a slightly higher price,” says an Uber Eats spokesperson.

Uber Eats did not respond to questions about whether it would consider increasing the current fees. However, the company pointed out it will continue monitoring driver economics and marketplace dynamics to ensure partners continue to thrive when using the Uber Eats app.

“We have seen more people ordering more often through the Uber Eats app. As a result, delivery-partners will spend more time making deliveries and less time sitting idly waiting for orders. We have also implemented temporary incentives for delivery-drivers to ensure their earnings remain strong and reliable, whilst we worked on growing the business,” adds the spokesperson.