E-hailing drivers go offline to protest working conditions

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 22 Mar 2022

E-hailing passengers are expected to be left stranded over the next three days, as drivers and couriers go offline, to protest the lack of regulation, which they say leads to exploitation in the industry.

E-hailing drivers and operators of Uber, Bolt, In-driver and DiDi are holding a nationwide protest across all provinces to deliver a memorandum of demands to various government offices today, including the Union Buildings in Pretoria and Parliament in Cape Town.

Among the long list of demands, the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee and affiliates representing drivers and operators are calling on government to speed up the process of regulating the e-hailing industry, to minimise what they call “atrocious working conditions” they are subjected to at the hands of e-hailing firms.

Other concerns highlighted in the memorandum include safety and security issues, and the high commissions deducted by e-hailing services from the drivers’ wages.

The drivers are joined by Uber Eats and Bolt Food couriers in the three-day protest (from 22 to 24 March), who also cry foul over low wages.

The Gauteng-based drivers and operators took their fight to the streets of Pretoria this morning, driving in a convoy from Marabastad (also called Asiatic Bazaar) to the Union Buildings in Arcadia, Pretoria.

“The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) has a mandate to create a fair regulatory environment that enables investment, trade and enterprise development in an equitable and socially responsible manner,” says Melithemba Mnguni, secretary general of the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee, in an interview with ITWeb.

“But unfortunately, the minister has been non-responsive to industry calls to engage and has no appetite to resolve industry problems. The DTIC must guard against creation of app monopolies in the sector, by companies which compete at the expense of e-hailing operators and drivers. App companies should be held accountable for the moral operational hazards they create and drivers should operate in a safe and healthy environment.”

The ride-hailing services’ business model is premised on a principle of not employing their partner drivers, but rather allowing them to use the technology, as independent contractors, working in exchange for a commission.

According to Mnguni, the drivers want government to sign the Transport Amendment Bill into law so that e-hailing firms will be recognised as transport companies (instead of tech firms) and be forced to adhere to the National Land Transport Act (NLTA).

Over the last few years, several protests have been held by the e-hailing drivers and operators, with issues around the percentage split between the taxi service, drivers and vehicle owner remaining at the centre of the dispute.

According to Mnguni, many drivers have been robbed and some have lost their lives at the hands of criminals, with government not doing much to intervene.

The protest comes after Gauteng MEC for roads and transport Jacob Mamabolo yesterday engaged a group representing e-hailing driver partners to discuss the protest action and mediation between all parties involved. The MEC assured the parties that mediation will be concluded within the next three months.

Duane Bernard, delivery driver and spokesperson for Uber Driver Partners SA, told ITWeb that couriers across several cities are joining today’s strike for several reasons.

“Courier drivers have not had an increase in their wages for the last couple of years, yet fuel prices increase every day and restaurants hike their food prices annually. We are demanding an increase in our delivery fees. Every time a restaurant hikes their price, courier companies make more money but our delivery fees remain the same,” notes Bernard.

The current pickup fee is R9 and R2.70 per km thereafter.

Actively engaging driver partners

Responding to ITWeb’s questions on the matter, Gareth Taylor, SADC regional manager for Bolt, states: “Bolt respects every driver’s right to protest, and we appeal to drivers to do so legally and peacefully.

“The e-hailing sector is a complex one [to regulate], and after having engaged extensively with the team and government that drafted the National Land Transport Amendment Bill to provide industry-specific insights, Bolt looks forward to the approval of the National Land Transport Amendment Bill that will create clarity for all stakeholders in the South African transport sector.”

In terms of setting prices, Bolt balances the earning needs of drivers with affordability for passengers, Taylor adds.

“Bolt continues to look for ways to make e-hailing safer for everybody, in consultation with the SAPS, the Department of Transport and other stakeholders.”

Kagiso Khaole, head of mobility operations for Sub-Saharan Africa at Uber, says prices have been increased on the Uber app to account for the blow of inflationary increases.

“We take the concerns of drivers seriously, actively engaging on issues which impact their business. Our commitment to them is to continuously find ways of maximising their earning potential while meeting the needs of riders.

“There are several economic factors, including fuel price increases, which impact the cost of moving people and goods. Our goal is to maintain a holistic view on these inflationary pressures to ensure the platform remains economically viable for drivers,” explains Khaole.