Uber: It’s drivers vs the corporate machine

Uber will deal with aggrieved drivers individually and not as a group.

This was the message from the ride-hailing firm as drivers embarked on a second day of strike action, citing the company’s unfair pricing model that drivers argue has left them destitute.

The striking drivers, who mounted demonstrations through Johannesburg and Tshwane, have asked for a meeting to air their grievances but Uber has refused.

Uber South Africa spokesperson Samantha Allenberg says that Uber has channels in which individual drivers can air their grievances and concerns. These channels, however, do not accept memorandums delivered by a group.

“Drivers have a number of channels available to individually engage with Uber including: daily office hours, 24/7 support and regular partner round tables,” said Allenberg.

She added that 3 500 different driver-partners from around the country had been invited to participate in these workshops and share their “personal experience” with Uber.

But, on Tuesday, a cavalcade of Uber drivers went offline from the mobile app and took to the streets of Tshwane and Johannesburg to demand that the ride-hailing company review its pricing.

The group urged their fellow drivers to participate in the strike, which has continued into its second day.

A memorandum was taken to the Uber offices in Tshwane demanding increased fares, the need for an objective investigation into a filed complaint and safety.

However, the memorandum was not received by Uber as the office in Tshwane was empty and closed.

The ride-hailing platform is constituted in a way that it “partners” with drivers and vehicle owners, thereby negating the onus that comes with being an employer. In exchange for using the app, drivers are charged 25% of each fare. Taxify, another ride-hailing platform that follows the same model, charges 15%.

News24 reported that the drivers complained about being deactivated from the Uber system without a proper investigation or an opportunity to prove their innocence when clients accuse the drivers of misconduct.

Cosmos Mdhlolo, an Uber driver, believes negotiating can solve the problems but the drivers need Uber “to come to us.”

“Uber has 48 hours to respond to the memorandum,” said Mdhlolo. He said if their demands are not met, the strike would continue.

Although the drivers are concerned that some of their peers have been “deactivated” from the app without a proper investigation, Allenberg said that the drivers “cannot be deactivated on a whim”.

She added that Uber adheres to strict community guidelines, which is not only a “how to” for Uber drivers, but “one for Uber riders too”.

Due to the hike in fuel prices to R16/litre, Uber drivers say they will lose most of their income, and, according to the drivers, the company is allegedly not making concessions for the price hike.

The group of Uber drivers are calling for an increase in the travel fare, or a decrease from the 25% service fee that the ride-hailing company deducts from each ride.

The drivers are concerned that should their demands not be met, they will not be able to provide for their families on this salary as they have.

An Uber driver, on average, earns roughly R16 000, but most of this income is taken up with the expense of running the vehicles.

On average, Mdhlolo said, drivers will spend R2 800 on fuel, R4 000 on renting the car, and R2 250 on insurance per month. These daily operating costs exclude paying excess on damages and routine service on the cars.

According to Mdhlolo, the increase in the price of petrol, along with the other expenditures, has the Uber drivers feeling “trapped”.

“Petrol affects us and makes us unable to pay for other things,” said Mdhlolo

Mdhlolo believes that the two biggest problems which need to be solved revolve around fares and reductions. “If Uber can fix the pricing, then all will be okay and there won’t be any more strikes,” Mdhlolo said.

In the statement, said she was aware of the strike which took place.

“We respect driver-partners as valuable partners with a voice and a choice and we want driver-partners to feel they can talk to us about anything at any time,” Allenberg said in a statement.

Allenberg argued that Uber fares are priced correctly or else expensive trips may lead riders to “take fewer trips which will ultimately lead to lower earnings.”

She added that the service fee allowed the app to be “continually improved” for “seamless and efficient” trips.

Mdhlolo believes that Uber will be running as normal, should their demands be met. 

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