Drivers for Bolt and Uber around the country have downed tools to demonstrate and call for regulation of the sector in South Africa.

This follows calls from unions on Friday to protest unfair working conditions, safety and other issues that plague drivers on the platforms.

One of the core issues for drivers is being blocked from platforms for seemingly no reason.

“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,” reads a memo from Imbokodo seen by ITWeb.

It’s important to note that given how Uber and Bolt operate, drivers are not classified as employees. This point of contention has been argued ad-nausem in the US, but it’s seemingly a conversation that is yet to be had locally.

We’ve spoken to both Uber and Bolt about the protests today, but the crux of the responses is that the apps will continue to function for users.

While Bolt country manager, Gareth Taylor states that they will accept a memorandum should the drivers present one, his statement is rather, generic. To give you an idea of what the full statement is comprised of we’ve included full statements from Bolt and Uber below.

While both firms state they have channels through which drivers can engage the firms, if we’re at the point where drivers have to physically march to offices in order for their “employer” to hear them out, then perhaps those channels are primed for updating.

A spokesperson for Uber meanwhile said that, “this protest is not directly related to Uber” though Hypertext was informed by a number of the platform’s drivers that they would be participating in the protest action.

As we’ve written before, Uber and similar firms which originated in the US seemingly don’t understand that South Africa is not the US.

Drivers regularly complain to us about how big of a cut Uber takes from drivers (25 percent commission with a booking fee of 3 percent) and the lack of movement as regards pricing. That last point is particularly notable considering how much the local fuel price fluctuates on a monthly basis.

The response from these firms to today’s protest action is simply not good enough, especially when it comes across to us that the goal of these statements was to inform riders that they could still catch a lift while the plight of drivers was relegated to “use the channels we provide you”.

Our questions regarding whether Uber and Bolt would consider adapting their business models to assist drivers and questions regarding regulation of the sector, went unanswered by both firms.

Statement from Bolt Country Manager, Gareth Taylor:

Bolt is aware that a small number of drivers are choosing to stay offline on 12 October 2020 in protest.

Apart from slightly longer waiting times, the protest has not impacted riders’ ability to hail a ride through the platform, as there are enough drivers who have chosen to stay online to meet demand.

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. Bolt unequivocally condemns any form of violence directed towards e-hailing drivers and passengers because it believes that every South African has the right to earn a living and move around without risk of harm, intimidation or coercion, or fear of death or injury.

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.

Bolt 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. Bolt continues to look for ways to increase driver earnings, including incentivising riders and establishing partnerships with other brands. It also engages with stakeholders to provide a fair and safe environment for transport operators to earn a living.

Despite the pandemic, Bolt drivers using the platform in South Africa earned, on average per driver, 25% more in September 2020 than they did in September 2019.

Bolt continues to welcome drivers’ feedback about their issues of concern, and commits to making decisions in the best interests of drivers that use the platform, and Bolt too.

Bolt actively engages with stakeholders in the transport industry, national, provincial and local government, as well as the Metro Police and SAPS to improve safety for ride-hailing drivers across South Africa as well as to create and maintain a fair and competitive transport industry.

Statement from Uber South Africa spokesperson:

We are aware of a protest taking place today, 12 October, by a small group of e-hailing drivers. Currently, the Uber app remains reliable for both riders and drivers, and requests are largely unaffected. 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 through daily office hours, 24/7 virtual and phone support, Driver support teams and regular driver roundtables.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]
Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.