'We are not making any profit' - Uber, Bolt drivers on strike

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  • Gauteng drivers contracted by Uber, Bolt and Didi have started a three-day strike.
  • They want government to better regulate the industry and improve conditions of employment.
  • According to a spokesperson for the drivers, some  are operating at a loss due to high commissions deducted by companies.

E-hailing services drivers across Gauteng embarked on a three-day strike from Tuesday, with more provinces expected to follow suit. 

Drivers who say they are contractors for Uber, Bolt and Didi want government to better regulate the industry, and improve conditions of employment. 

On Tuesday, drivers marched in Pretoria to hand over a list of their complaints to  the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition. They want the department to intervene in both the classification and regulation of the e-hailing industry, which they claim is exploiting drivers.

"Countries around the world have done well to regulate the e-hailing industry, but South Africa has not done that. This system allows companies to exploit and underpay the drivers," said Melithemba Mnguni, convenor of Unity in Diversity, a group that represents the drivers.

He says 1 500 drivers took part in Tuesday's protest. Uber insists that its drivers are independent contractors who may be linked to several apps, and are therefore are not seen as employees.

"It is not clear how the e-hailing operators in this country are classified. On one hand, they are tech companies, at the same time they are seen as transport services. This lack of a clear definition of the sector needs to be addressed." 

According to Mnguni, drivers were "operating at a loss" due to high commissions deducted by companies.

"Our jobs and lives are often at risk, and such challenges are worsened by the fact that we are not making any profit. For instance, Uber deducts 25% to 30% commission from drivers, leaving us with nothing."

Drivers are also under pressure as fuel prices rose by a third over the past year.  

Mnguni says they have tried to engage their e-hailing companies over the matter, as well as Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula, with no success.

He said the Gauteng coalition of drivers would mobilise their counterparts from other provinces to take part in the protest action. The drivers will also march to the Union Building to hand over their grievances.

Last year, two law firms announced that they would file a class action on behalf of South African Uber drivers against the company, for drivers to be recognised as employees.

Mnguni said they continue to be in contact with the law firms, Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys and Leigh Day, which are involved in the planned litigation. But the drivers pushed ahead with the strike, given that "there were many urgent issues that needed to be addressed" while they wait for the case to proceed.

Currently, drivers are seen as self-employed independent contractors and have limited rights. 

Uber Sub-Saharan Africa said that as independent contractors, drivers don't get paid by Uber and they make earnings from each Uber trip they make. The company also confirmed that their standard service fee is 25%, which they say covers the cost of running the Uber app from each fare.

"We take the concerns of drivers seriously and are currently engaging directly using our various engagement channels to work towards addressing the issues," said  Kagiso Khaole, head of mobility operations for Sub-Saharan Africa at Uber. 

He added that the company was engaging with the drivers to work towards addressing the issues they have raised.

US operator Uber has been in South Africa since 2013, while Estonian company Bolt (previously known as Taxify) entered the market in 2015; China-based DiDi Chuxing launched in South Africa last year. 

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