Food delivery and passenger service drivers and are forced to follow the company apps. But if apps miscalculate and send drivers in the wrong direction, or lower wages for drivers stuck in traffic, it’s the driver who loses wages, or is even booted from the platform. The latest episode of My Boss Is a Robot shows that for app-based companies, these are not bugs–they are built into an algorithmic system designed to move money from workers and into the pockets of the rich corporate bosses.
From Thailand, delivery driver Niap Chunti Ta Kai See Kun tells Podcast Host and Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau that the app often shows his destination far closer than it really is–sometimes indicating a route straight through buildings.
“The distance in the Google Map, for an example, is five kilometers, but the distance in the application map is always shorter, like three kilometers,” he says. “I think that’s not a mistake, they intend to do that because that will reduce the pay and that will reduce the cost for the application. The shorter the distance, the less they have to pay us. But the longer the distance, the more they have to pay us.”
Drivers also work long hours and rush between deliveries because if they don’t, the app punishes them by lowering pay.
“And that’s why you see some drivers died on the wheel,” says Lawal Ayobami, an app-based driver in Nigeria. “There was no rest for the driver. They don’t even go to their family. They’re on the road because they want to make money.”
Delivery Drivers Stand Up for Their Rights
Delivery drivers around the world are standing up for their rights: Earlier this year, Nigeria’s Ministry of Labor recognized the Amalgamated Union of App-Based Transport Workers of Nigeria after delivery drivers organized in cities across the country.
“That means workers like Ayobami will begin to get the protections and benefits they deserve in this highly unregulated and informal sector,” says Bader-Blau.
Drivers in Nigeria won the country’s first union covering platform-based workers, a victory that shows it is possible for “unions to organize workers in the gig economy,” says Ayoade Ibrahim, secretary general of the Amalgamated Union of App-Based Transport Workers of Nigeria (AUATWN).
Platform workers in Nigeria join with Labor Ministry officials to finalize recognition of their union, AUATWN. Credit: AUATWN
The Ministry of Labor’s recognition of AUATWN empowers it to have a say in determining the terms and conditions of drivers working for Uber, Bolt and other app-based transportation companies in the country, and covers drivers who deliver food and passengers or engage in other services. The union worked with the Nigeria Labor Congress throughout the campaign for recognition.
In a statement approving AUATWN as union representative of app-based workers last week, the Labor Ministry pointed out that while the freedom to form unions and collectively bargain are internationally protected rights, workers in the informal sector, such as app-based workers, often are not included.
In Nigeria, as in countries around the world, app-based drivers often must work long hours to support themselves and pay for expenses like vehicle maintenance, insurance and car leasing. Excessive hours lead to accidents, says Ayoade.
“I work 15 to 18 hours a day. Long hours working is actually not safe for drivers,” says Ayobami Lawal, a platform driver in Lagos. “That is why you see in the news that the driver had an accident. It is because of fatigue, because there is no time to rest.” Drivers also risk being assaulted and even killed on the job, as platform companies do not screen riders. By contrast, riders have access to drivers’ name and personal phone numbers.
In April 2021, platform drivers and their associations in Nigeria went on strike, demanding that Uber and Bolt raise trip fares to make up for the increased cost of gas and vehicle parts. They also launched a class action suit in 2021 against Uber and Bolt, seeking unpaid overtime and holiday pay, pensions and union recognition. Following the protests, Uber increased fare costs on UberX rides and UberX Share in Lagos, a move that did little to improve drivers’ pay and nothing to improve conditions.
‘We Must Be United’
App-based drivers in Nigeria began seeking union recognition in 2017, after drivers’ income was slashed by 40 percent, says Ayoade, a father of three who that year was forced to drive 10-hour days to make the same income he had previously earned for fewer hours. When Uber and Bolt first launched, drivers were paid enough to work without putting in long hours. But the companies’ price wars to lure passengers and increased driver fees, including commissions up to 25 percent per rider, slashed driver pay.
As the process to register a union with the government dragged, platform worker associations made key gains in mobilizing workers through Facebook, WhatsApp and, most recently, Telegram. The campaign also includes legal action and lobbying Parliament to extend labor laws and social protections to workers in the informal sector.
Three worker associations engaged in the campaign—the National Union of Professional App-based Transport Workers (NUPA-BTW), the Professional E-hailing Drivers and Private Owners Association of Nigeria (PEDPAN) and the National Coalition of Ride-Sharing Partners (NACORP)—last year joined together to form AUATWN.
“We cannot go to war with a divided mind,” says Ayoade. We must be united before we can achieve. The fact that we are united now, we are fierce. We’re trying to involve everybody.”
App-Based Workers Making Gains Worldwide
Unions face unique challenges organizing app-based workers, but by mobilizing members through online apps, unions also have the ability to involve more workers in meetings, education and other opportunities.
“Everybody is included,” says Ayoade. “It’s a more democratic process. We have delegates for unit leadership. If the delegates can’t join for a physical meeting, they can join anywhere.”
Members’ questions can be quickly answered on social platforms and the union operation is more transparent. For instance, he says, members “will see how the money to the union is moving from the app to the account. Every member knows how the money will be used.”
Platform workers in countries worldwide are joining together to better wages, job safety and other fundamental rights guaranteed by international laws. In Kyrgyzstan, gig workers at Yandex Go formed a union and won better wages, while a new report finds that workers on digital platform companies who are pursuing their rights at work through courts and legislation are making significant gains, especially in Europe and Latin America. The Solidarity Center is part of a broad-based movement in dozens of countries to help app-based drivers and other informal sector workers come together. Members of the International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network (ILAW), a Solidarity Center project, have assisted platform workers in many of these cases.
While celebrating the new union, Ayoade also is mindful of the cost some workers paid for a lack of decent work.
“Some of the people we started together with in this campaign, they lost their life along the line,” he says. The lack of insurance or social benefits mean that if drivers are attacked or robbed or even die on the job, they and their family are left all on their own. “They have children, they have parents, who received nothing,” he says.
Although he is bullied and even threatened for his work, Ayoade says such tactics only make him see his efforts are effective. “God gave me the opportunity to help people in this struggle. I am doing something that is improving people’s lives.”
Workers on digital platforms who are pursuing their rights at work through courts and legislation are making significant gains, especially in Europe and Latin America, according to a new report by the International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network (ILAW Network).
When gig workers like platform-based drivers are misclassified as independent contractors, they are not covered by labor laws that mandate a minimum wage, safety and health protections, paid sick leave, and the right to join or form a union and bargain collectively.
As the report notes: “The principal problem, the denial of workers’ employment status is not the sole issue when it comes to the exploitation of these workers. The denial of decent wages and working hours, unfair dismissals, and some union busting to boot, are all part and parcel of the [platform companies’] modus operandi.”
“The leading digital platform companies were well aware that their model was illegal from the start and used their money and influence to ensure that regulators would treat their ‘innovation’ otherwise. At long last, courts and regulators are coming around, though after undermining an industry and the livelihoods of drivers worldwide,” says Jeffrey Vogt, rule of law director at the Solidarity Center.
The Solidarity Center launched the ILAW Network in December 2018 as a global hub for worker rights lawyers to facilitate innovative litigation, help spread the adoption of pro-worker legislation and defeat anti-worker laws. The network now has more than 900 members from 80 countries.
Platform Workers Organizing and Mobilizing
The ILAW report analyzes 30 recent employment cases across 18 countries and builds on the network’s March 2021 Taken for a Ride report which found that app-based companies “go to extraordinary lengths to construct an impenetrable legal armory around themselves, requiring workers, unions and/or the state to overcome innumerable hurdles should they wish to impose any employment obligations on the companies acting as ‘employers.’”
Even as they advocate for laws ensuring their full rights as workers and challenge exploitative company practices in courts, platform workers also are standing up for their rights around the world by taking collective action to strike and form unions and associations.
Taken for a Ride 2 asserts that collective action is key to advancing their rights. In one of its key recommendations, the report states: “Independent, democratic trade unions and worker organizations which represent ‘gig economy’ workers must be provided a seat at the table. They also hold more expertise than legislators, lawyers and academics about what ‘gig economy’ workers need from the law.”
In addition, the report notes that enforcement of laws covering platform workers is crucial because “this is an industry in which employers have demonstrated over and over again that irrespective of what judges say, or the extent to which they are lambasted in the press, they are willing to flout laws unfavorable to them. Because the price of doing so has not been high enough.”
More than a hundred Grab food delivery riders launched the Iloilo Grab Riders Union (IGRU) in Iloilo City, Philippines, on November 24, then staged a unity ride around the city, located on Panay Island. Some 200 drivers joined in the ride, with more riders taking part from the streets, organizers said. The newly formed union’s demand is for just fares, paid sick leave and other social protections, and union recognition.
“The increasing price of gasoline and of commodities and the decrease in base fare delivery fees makes Grab riders work twice their normal hours to get the same wage they earned before the pandemic,”Archie, one of the Grab drivers who helped organize IGRU, said on the local radio show DZRH News. Archie is also a member of the Partido ng Manggagawa (Labor Party).
Photo Credit: Solidarity Center/Andreanna Garcia
Preceding the launch of IGRU, gig drivers from Grab and other platforms such as Food Panda and Maxim had begun to form unions across the Philippines. On August 15, some 300 delivery riders from General Santos City organized under the union, United Delivery Riders of the Philippines (RIDERS). RIDERS is composed of delivery riders from Food Panda, Maxim and Grab. Unity rides have also been conducted in the cities of General Santos and Cebu. Elsewhere in the country, local chapters of RIDERS also have begun to organize.
Their aim is to formally establish the United Delivery Riders of the Philippines (RIDERS) as the national union for the riders. “During the pandemic, when Grab suspended the GrabCar service, Grab food delivery drivers became the lifeline of the company. Is it wrong to ask them to be fair?” asked John Jay, a multi-app driver and organizer from Metro Manila. He attended the IGRU launch to express support for his fellow Grab drivers.
In addition to the decrease in earnings, delivery drivers in the Philippines have little or no job security or basic benefits as they are part of the gig economy. Under Philippine labor laws, delivery riders are classified as “independent contractors,” which does not provide an employee-employer relationship. As gig economy workers, delivery riders are not entitled to social protections such as health insurance and income security, among other basic protections.
“Our interests will be protected only through the passing of laws,” said Mark, a driver and organizer from Pampanga. Like John Jay, he also traveled to Iloilo to share a message of solidarity for his fellow riders.
Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros proposed the Protektadong Online Workers, Entrepreneurs, Riders at Raketera (POWERR) Act, which would protect workers in the gig economy. A committee currently is working on the bill.
The IGRU launch was supported by the Solidarity Center, the global union IUF, RIDERS, the Center of United and Progressive Workers (SENTRO), Partido ng Manggagawa (Labor Party) and the Brotherhood of Two Wheels (Kagulong).
In Nigeria—where 93 percent of working people toil in the informal economy for low wages, unprotected by labor law and without social services such as pensions and healthcare—app-based workers are fighting for their rights.
With Solidarity Center support, today the Federation of Informal Workers of Nigeria (FIWON), the National Union of Professional APP-Based Transport Workers (NUPA-BW) and the Professional E-Hailing Drivers and Private Owners of Nigeria (PEDPA) launched a joint campaign for formal recognition and adequate representation for all, regardless of classification.
“A worker is a worker,” says Solidarity Center Nigeria Country Program Director Sonny Ogbuehi. “And all working people have the right to join together to secure the decent jobs and fair wages they deserve.”
During the early part of the pandemic, employment in Nigeria plummeted. Although employment has since rebounded, most newly created jobs are precarious and the cost of living has skyrocketed. Many young people, including those who graduated university into the pandemic, are now employed in the gig economy or other informal-sector jobs because no formal-sector work is available.
Following a Supreme Court decision in the United Kingdom classifying Uber drivers as workers rather than independent contractors, NUPA-BW drivers in May last year announced a class action suit against two international app-based ridesharing companies for compensation of unpaid overtime and holiday pay, pensions, social security, as well as union recognition. A month prior, drivers in Lagos embarked on a strike for an immediate increase in fares to compensate for the cost of goods and services that, PEDPA said, had increased by more than 200 percent without a commensurate fare increase.
“We want [ride-share companies] to respect the Nigerian constitution and labor law,” says NUPA-BW President Ayoade Ibrahim.
The joint campaign’s demands include full worker and union rights; provision of social protection programs, including pensions, adequate and affordable healthcare, and disability care; provision by the employer of basic workplace infrastructure such as electricity, water and toilets; improved safety and security measures; and worker input into pricing.
The campaign will:
Support a new NUPA-BW case at the national industrial court for classification of app-based drivers as workers
Produce a weekly call-in radio program to educate the public about the challenges faced by workers employed by app-based companies and other informal-sector workers
Facilitate platform workers efforts to organize and support their efforts to advocate for their rights with government and policy makers, employers and within the public domain.
Some 2 billion people work in the informal sector globally, as domestic workers, taxi drivers and street vendors, many of them women. This number has only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Informal-economy work now comprises most jobs in many countries and is increasing worldwide. Although informal-economy workers can create up to half of a country’s gross national product, most have no access to health care, sick leave or support when they lose their jobs, and they have little power to advocate for living wages and safe and secure work. The Solidarity Center is part of a broad-based movement in dozens of countries to help workers in the informal economy come together to assert their rights and raise living standards.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.