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Mbalula looks into assisting Uber, Bolt with financial aid

Read time 3min 40sec
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula. (Source: Twitter)
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula. (Source: Twitter)

The ministry of transport says it is engaging government stakeholders on assisting e-hailing companies with coronavirus (COVID-19) financial aid, to curb the effect of the pandemic on businesses and individuals.

This, as ride-hailing drivers threaten war after they were side-lined from the R1.135 billion relief package allocated to the taxi industry, to assist thousands of taxis and their operators.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula’s announcement of government’s relief funding on Friday was met with resistance, after SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) members in Gauteng said it was insufficient and a “slap in the face”, according to SABC news. Santaco embarked on a shutdown today.

Meanwhile, Department of Transport spokesperson Ayanda Allie Paine told ITWeb that Mbalula is keen to provide ride-hailing drivers with financial assistance; however, a decision has not yet been made.

“The minister wants e-hailing drivers to be assisted too; however, it’s still part of ongoing discussions. The decision is yet to be finalised,” she noted.

Government has re-prioritised billons of rands in funds to cushion the blow of the pandemic on various industries, including a R700 million Debt Relief Fund for SMEs, a R3.1 billion fund for the taxi industry and R1.5 billion for the agriculture and food industry.

Aggrieved Uber and Bolt drivers and operators have been lobbying government for financial aid since April.

The ride-hailing workforce took their frustrations online, creating a petition on Change.org, which has since been signed by over 6 600 people, urging government to include them in economic stimulus plans.

In the petition, ride-hailing operators and drivers complain they have been side-lined in the disaster relief funding, adding that as independent contractors, they contribute to SA’s economy through value-added tax and rightfully deserve a share of the disaster relief funds.

While e-hailing services have been operating during the nationwide lockdown introduced in March, their services were limited to operate from 5am to 9am and again from 4pm to 8pm.

Melithemba Chris Nguni, secretary general of the E-hailing Operators Interim Committee, told ITWeb that while the engagements with government have been promising, they are dragging.

“Although we are hopeful, we had hoped that given our dire circumstances, government would have assisted us by now or helped us by recommending payment holidays with banks and loan firms.

“The deputy director of transport Peter Jabu Dlamini and the head of department Makuku Mampuru had initially told us to apply via the online platforms and it seemed promising, but we are still waiting. Government’s lack of action will have dire consequences − the brewing wars between e-hailing drivers and mini bus taxis − as we have no choice but to fight back.”

The E-hailing Operators Interim Committee, which consists of Uber and Bolt drivers, is also in consultation with the Competition Commission, and is awaiting feedback, he notes.

“Business hasn't been sustainable even prior the COVID-19 pandemic, with exploitation and high commission leading to us earning low wages. We have since seen banks and financial institutions repossessing our drivers’ vehicles and some facing unemployment while we’ve been waiting for funding.”

According to a reportby The Fairwork Project, titled: “Gig Workers, Platforms and Government During COVID-19”, the majority of SA’s gig workers lost their jobs entirely during lockdown, while those able to work have on average lost four-fifths of their income.

The report provides an analysis of the impact of the COVID-19-related lockdown on the estimated 35 000 gig workers in SA – those performing work for digital platforms like Uber, Bolt, Uber Eats, SweepSouth, M4Jam and food delivery apps such as Mr D Food.

It found the non-standard employment status of gig workers has made them particularly vulnerable during the current economic shutdown.

“If gig workers are to avoid destitution, government must take further action. Here, again, we outline a series of measures – pushing for gig workers’ de facto employee status to be recognised formally, but also ensuring the safety net of assistance covers gig workers,” said the report.

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