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Drivers happy as lawmakers plan Uber, Bolt probe

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UBER and Bolt drivers have welcomed the decision of the House of Representatives to probe car hire service providers in the nation.

Two weeks ago, lawmakers set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the e-hailing ecosystem and report back to the House within four weeks for further legislative action.

The probe is based on a motion moved by a member, Ganiyu Johnson, at the plenary session titled, ‘Urgent Need to Investigate the Tax Returns of Information Communication Technology and Transport Companies in Nigeria.’


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Two e-hailing drivers unions, the National Union of Professional App-based Workers (NUPABW) and the Professional E-hailing Drivers and Private Owners Association (PEDPA), said they supported the probe.

Protesting UBER and BOLT drivers
Uber and Bolt drivers protesting last year. Credit: The ICIR
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National Publicity Secretary of PEDPA Joseph Olawale said the probe was welcome, noting that the app company was keen on exploiting drivers.

“If the reps are working on this initiative, it is a very good development because the sector is like a business not having any backing of the law at the moment. At the same time, the app company operating in that sector are truly exploiting the drivers. They are taking actions that only favour their business without considering the drivers who should be recognised as partners in that business.

“The business is like a partnership business where the app company comes up with technology for an efficient transportation system. The drivers, on the other side, come out with their investments in millions of naira ,which is their cars. Some of the cars are not less than N2.5 million. Considering the inflation that is affecting the market, we can’t get any car less than three million today.

“The app companies are taking advantage of the operators who are the drivers by the way of dictating both the price of the transportation service and their own commission at will without taking the contribution of the drivers who also have a stake there.”

Agreeing with him in a separate conversation, National President of NUPABW Ibrahim Ayoade, in a telephone interview, said a matter had been pending at the court between the drivers and the app companies to clarify their business partnerships.

“The fact remains that our relationship with the app companies is yet to be defined. This forms part of the things we are asking the court. Are we really independent contractors or are we workers? Whatever the court gives us would help us to act legally. We cannot do anything because these things have not been well spelt-out and that is why we are at the Court of Appeal, Lagos. We want to iron where we belong to.

“We reported to the National Assembly in 2019 and it was two weeks ago they raised a motion to begin to investigate them. At the end of the day, everyone would know their fate. The court case was from the National Industrial Court to the court of appeal. We have been in Court of Appeal for like a year and very soon it would be determined.”

Uber
NUPABW president, Ayoade Ibrahim. Credit: TechNext
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Ayoade, in an earlier statement forwarded to our correspondent, had engaged the International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network in a bid to protest unfavourable labour practices by Uber and Bolt. This is in a bid to secure a similar judgement secured by drivers in London five years ago, which changed their status from self-employed to full staff.

The NUPABW boss stated that the issue had been quite confusing.

“You call us independent contractors and we are not part of the decisions being taken. Can we call ourselves partners if you fire us through the algorithm? We don’t have any rights over the payments. There is a lot of confusion and we want the court to wade in. This is why we have not been able to get it right all the while. These days, if we write letters to them, they would not listen,” he lamented.

Bolt’s commission increase, more woes

Olawale noted that Bolt had continued to increase the commission drivers were expected to remit to them to 23 per cent, from 15 per cent in the same year.

He said, “Bolt recently increased their commission from 15 to 20 per cent. Then on the 8th of December, 2021, Bolt increased the commission to 23 per cent again and it has been implemented. The drivers were not informed and this is affecting our earnings.

“Though we clamoured for the increment of transportation fare, the cost of maintaining the car and spare parts in the market has gone up by 200 per cent, considering inflation and the problem of foreign exchange that Nigeria is facing today. All those parts are not locally made and they affect us.”

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The PEDPA PRO explained that both Uber and Bolt had failed to adequately profile riders on the app, leading to deaths of drivers and theft of their cars. Going further, he accused the Lagos State Government of collecting a levy of N20 known as road improvement fund from the e-hailing drivers but failing to work on the welfare of the drivers.

An Uber driver being brutalised by Lagos State Police and LNSC. Phot Credit: Arise Television

“I noticed that early this year they started taking that N20 on every trip we complete. That is running to millions on a daily basis. For them, that is a development levy even though the road is not motorable and causes damage to our vehicles on a daily basis,” he said.

A rider, Taiwo Akinrinlade, lamented the high prices fixed by Bolt. “It is extremely high these days,” she remarked.

Another rider, Damilola said, “Even when there’s no traffic or high demand, the app always says there’s a surge.”

Meanwhile, Uber Nigeria stated in an interview that drivers were independent contractors with freedom to work as many hours as they wanted. The ride-hailing firm stated that it was seeking more flexibility and independence for drivers to make extra earnings. It noted that its survey around the pricing system was well appreciated by the drivers in the eco-system, adding that it was monitoring instances of fuel increase and inflation in the country to help the drivers’ pricing concerns.

Uber
Uber Country Manager, Tope Akinwumi. Credit: TechNext

Nonetheless, instances of offline pricing have usually come up in these situations with both riders and drivers throwing accusing fingers at each other. Uber, however, stated that it did not encourage cancellations of trips for whatever reason.

Speaking on the issue of the lawmakers’ probe on their activities, it stated that it was willing to work with the Federal Government of Nigeria via an email response to our correspondent.

“Since our launch in Lagos in 2016, we have been actively working with regulators to help shape the future of ride-sharing across Nigeria. Uber has always been a significant net contributor to the local economy, employing local operations and teams, and is committed to being a responsible corporate citizen both in Nigeria and globally,” it read.

However, the PEDPA PRO asked lawmakers to concern themselves with taxation or the revenue aspect of the e-hailing business and allow themselves to understand challenges facing drivers.

In a recent response to drivers’ plight sent to Premium Times, Country Manager of Bolt Femi Akin-Laguda said it valued its drivers and was committed to their overall social and economic welfare.

 

 

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