E-hailing drivers hold nationwide protest, call for regulation

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 12 Oct 2020

E-hailing drivers and operators across various provinces in SA have staged what they call the “mother of all” protests, aimed at drawing government’s attention to exploitation and low wages in light of National Transport Month.

In three separate memorandums seen by ITWeb, the South African E-hailing Operators Interim Committee and affiliate organisations, the Gauteng E-hailing Organising Committee and Imbokodo, on Friday called for a national shutdown of all e-hailing platforms in SA, including Uber and Bolt, in a move to send a strong message about their grievances.

The drivers and operators took their fight to the streets of Johannesburg this morning, driving in a convoy from Zoo Lake in Parkview en route to various e-hailing offices to protest against what they call “unfair working conditions, high commissions, safety issues and the unfair blocking of drivers without any explanation”.

While today’s protest was led mainly by Bolt drivers and operators, their representative bodies have confirmed that e-hailing drivers and operators from other firms will also not be operating today. The action aims to make a call to government to speed up the process of regulating the e-hailing industry, to minimise what they call exploitation by “international agent provocateur”.

The e-hailing bodies have been battling the same issues for over four years, without reaching any agreement with Bolt and Uber, and they are calling for government’s involvement.

“Imbokodo is calling for all e-hailing drivers to be offline on 12 October 2020, regardless of which platform they are driving for. All drivers and operators will converge at Zoo Lake as early as 5am, and then later march to the offending platform offices to stay there until all system-blocked drivers are unblocked. A night vigil is also anticipated if Imbokodo does not receive the answers it is looking for,” says a memo from Imbokodo.

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, in exchange for a commission.

This year alone, three 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.

Bolt drivers are charged 20% commission, with an additional 5% booking fee deducted from each trip.

Uber also takes a 25% commission, with a booking fee of 3%.

In addition, Bolt introduced its cheapest ride-hailing service in SA, Bolt Go, which offers prices that are approximately 20% less than regular Bolt rides.

Gareth Taylor, country manager of Bolt South Africa.
Gareth Taylor, country manager of Bolt South Africa.

Peaceful protest urged

“The fight against e-hailing exploitation is currently our main priority in our quest to call for the shutdown of Bolt Go and for regulation to stop the unfair labour practices,” says a memorandum by the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee.

“It is unfortunate that Bolt has not honoured any of our requested meetings for the past three years and we have consistently raised the same issues but our cries have fallen on deaf ears.

“We pledge our support to the strike and encourage all our members to comply by either participating physically, or by staying offline from their apps on the 12th and 13th October 2020. We expect the strike to be peaceful and failure to respect the rights of innocent motorists and other e-hailing platform drivers will result in us withdrawing our participation.”

Today’s protest comes a few weeks after a Bolt driver was killed by criminals and another was hijacked, and numerous other robbery incidents which have been experienced by drivers, notes the protest leader.

Bolt says it engages with its driver-partners through a variety of channels, both electronic and face-to-face, and is continuously developing tools that have a real impact on addressing the concerns of drivers.

In an e-mail interview, Gareth Taylor, country manager of Bolt South Africa, told ITWeb: “Bolt is aware of an organised protest as well as calls for a national shutdown of all e-hailing services on 12 October 2020. Bolt respects every driver’s right to protest legally, peacefully and without impacting the rights of other drivers who choose to continue to operate and earn an income.”

In the event that a memorandum is handed over by protesters at Bolt’s offices, a Bolt representative will be made available to receive it, he adds.

While Uber drivers have confirmed to ITWeb that they will also be participating in the protest, Uber says its service remains operational.

“We are aware of a protest taking place today, 12 October, by a group of e-hailing drivers. Currently, the Uber app remains reliable for both riders and drivers, and requests are largely unaffected,” says an Uber spokesperson.

“Uber’s dedicated team is closely monitoring this and based on the information we have, this protest is not directly related to Uber. We, however, want to take this opportunity to remind and encourage drivers to make use of the various options to engage directly with Uber.”