The accumulation of capital, forced by the logic of pursuing profits, initiated successive technological revolutions, whose innovations have also simplified the time and space for access and movement. Because these technological revolutions have affected time and space, they inevitably changed the nature and character of work from one revolution to another. 

E-hailing, which simply refers to transportation offered through electronic applications, has emerged as one of the innovations of the technological revolution of production and commerce. The e-hailing companies operating in this country are global giants in tech transport. They are Uber, Bolt and Mr Delivery, whilst DIDI recently closed shop in the country.

How these business models in which drivers have to bring their own cars or scooters, rented or owned, have changed how the employer and employee relate to each other. In the case of this business model, the employer does not have fixed capital where drivers congregate and get supervised. The only work instrument the employer brings is the electronic application, its maintenance, and features. The driver’s tools of the trade, is a car and or a scooter bought/rented by him/herself. Consequently, the employer use this relationship to refuse taking responsibility for anything except raking in profits.

Implications on the working relations

Here is how the employer is taking advantage of the new character of work to the detriment of the drivers:

  1. The employer refuses to be called an employer and only plays no direct supervisory.
  2. The only supervisory role employers plays is to block access to the app arbitrarily every time a customer complaints against the driver. Blocking access from the app means for the period unilaterally imposed which can be permanent, the drivers lose their income and livelihoods. 
  3. The employer takes no liability for ensuring that instruments of trade are provided and maintained. They don’t help with the payment of car instalments, servicing of the car or with the mechanical breakdowns. The driver is responsible for all these costs.
  4. Because he does not have a fixed workplace, the employers have absolved themselves from compensation relating to injury on duty and other benefits that should accrue. In fact the driver are not registered as the employees and consequently do not have access to Unemployment Insurance Fund, Skills Development, etc. In fact the drivers are operating outside the protections of the Constitution, country laws and ILO Conventions.
  5. Employers do not want to negotiate a minimum wage.

Struggles for recognition

In this country, the e-hailing drivers have been fighting for their rights, their livelihoods, and due to violent hostilities against other transport modes, for their lives.

The struggle for their livelihoods has, at the centre, been characterised by the fight to be recognised as employees of the E-hailing companies. In 2017, a CCMA ruling in favour of a driver whose case was referred by our affiliate, the National Union of Public Services and Allied Workers (NUPSAW). This was after Uber unfairly blocked a driver from the app following a client complaint. The CCMA ruled that the driver and Uber had normal employer/employee relationship and that blocking of the driver from the app without a hearing was unfair. Regrettably, the Labour Court ruled against the driver on appeal based on pure technicality that the driver has cited the UK Uber instead of the local operator. Nonetheless the CCMA ruling represented a crossroads. SAFTU will take that ruling on review or launch a new case for recognition of the e-hailing drivers as employees.

The subsequent ruling in the United Kingdom forcing e-hailing companies to recognise drivers as workers sets a key global precedence. However, the UK ruling case is a partial victory, as it still did not identify those workers as employees. 

Other countries are forging ahead with ensuring that these companies are recognised as employers and their drivers as employees. SA must use its rich legal framework to recognise these e-hailing companies as employees of the drivers and join other companies in setting precedence globally.

Unfair treatment, violence

The introduction of e-hailing taxis into the public transportation market has threatened the existence of the metered taxi section of the industry. The relatively low prices, which undercut the prices of the metered taxis, have given the e-hailing taxis the upper hand to outcompete the metered taxi. Refusing to be pushed out of business, some metered taxi have employed extra-market forces such as violence to defend their existence in the market. 

Consequently drivers have been used by the bosses to settle their scores leading to internecine violence between taxi drivers and e-hailing drivers. Drivers have been killed, beaten, injured and kidnapped in the conflict. Some areas have been declared no-go areas, where e-hailing drivers are barred from using violence. If spotted in such areas, they are often robbed of their cash. This conflict has also affected passengers. This must come to the end. taxi and e-hailing drivers must unite against their common enemies not each other.

Input costs, pricing and profits

Because the e-hailing companies operate virtually in South Africa, employing third-party companies to assist in registering new drivers, they are not concerned with the driver’s earnings. Thus, they do not factor in input costs but look at the law of supply and demand abstractly. They do not factor in the rising interest rates on the car instalments, the tollgates and the fuel prices.

On top of this, they charge fees for every ride. Currently, Bolt charges a 25% trip commission and a 6% booking fee for every ride. The driver takes peanuts home with elevated fuel prices, toll-road charges, and car instalments. These input costs, coupled with the rising cost of living where food inflation has been above 10% for quite some time now, the e-hailing drivers cannot look after their families and meet their personal needs.

Meanwhile, Uber recorded for the first quarter net revenue of over R146 billion, whilst Bolt was valued at R143 billion in 2022. Given its operations and customer base, it is more likely to post profits this year, according to Reuters.

Unionise the e-hailing driver

The e-hailing driver must organise under a trade union to fight for their rights and advance their economic interests. We acknowledge platforms like the E-hailing Partners Council (EPCO), but this platform remains and acts as a platform to hear workers’ grievances. It is not and can never displace and replace the need for a trade union.

We are meeting with the Minister of Employment and Labour on Friday the 28 July 2023. In that meeting we will raise the conditions of e-hailing workers, and similar cases such as workers in the minibus taxi industry and the EPWP workers.

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