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Our take: E-hailing drivers are taken for a ride

Today is the third and final day of a strike by Uber, Uber Eats, Bolt and Didi drivers. They want the government to regulate the industry and protect them from being exploited. Here’s why. 

Drivers in the e-hailing industry are considered neither full-time nor part-time employees. That means they don’t earn a fixed monthly stipend. Drivers are instead “self-employed” and earn their bucks based on commission; Uber drivers fork out as much as 20% (or more) of their earnings to the company for use of its app. They also have to cover their own rising petrol costs. So these drivers who make our lives easier are going home with very little money. 

When thousands of drivers switched off their app on Tuesday, swathes of passengers were stranded. Those lucky enough to find a driver had to pay exorbitant prices. Business Insider reported that in some instances, a 15-minute Uber trip could cost anywhere between R200 and R800! But forget our personal inconvenience: there is a much bigger issue at play. 

Drivers are correctly calling for change – and for a better vetting system to ensure their own safety when picking up passengers. 

One driver this week told Business Insider:

“There is no proper verification of a client taking our ride; as a result we end up picking up criminals.”

Some drivers have found ways to work around the system, with passengers’ help. As online publication restofworld.org explains: once a driver accepts and confirms the cost of a trip, they can, with the passenger’s permission, cancel the trip, drive the passenger to their destination – and pocket the full payment directly outside of the app. But they really shouldn’t have to hack the system to earn a living.

This isn’t just a South African problem. Last year, Uber and Lyft (another e-hailing service) drivers in the US state of California went on a 24-hour strike, calling on Congress to give them the choice to unionise and grant gig workers contract status so they get proper benefits.

Locally, drivers issued a list of their complaints to the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition on Tuesday and are also awaiting the outcome of a mediation process that started last year. A thoughtful, fair and equitable solution would benefit us all.

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 24 March  2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.