App-based drivers in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, achieved a historic milestone by negotiating a first collective bargaining agreement with a leading platform-based transportation company, Osh Taxi.
The September 29 pact, negotiated by the Kabylan union, extends beyond union members to cover all 2,000 drivers in the taxi fleet. It provides strong safety and health protections, including prevention of gender-based violence and harassment, and protects drivers’ rights against labor violations like unjust employer fines.
“The signing of the collective agreement is a highly important event that signifies a pivotal moment in our union’s history since its establishment,” says Kabylan President Ulan Cholponbaev. “This agreement has set an outstanding precedent for labor relations between taxi companies and workers, serving as a valuable tool for safeguarding the labor rights of drivers.”
App-based drivers started mobilizing several years ago to get the same rights and protections as workers covered by Kyrgyz law, and recently formed the Kabylan union, which now has 3,000 members.
The agreement also covers such areas as unjust suspension of drivers on the platform and gender discrimination, and includes a comprehensive set of measures and policies aimed at creating a work environment free from harassment and violence.
Drivers and their union began the process in March, and the contract followed formalization of a social partnership agreement between Kabylan and Osh Taxi. The foundational agreement laid the groundwork for negotiations that led to the comprehensive collective agreement.
Kabylan also provides legal assistance for taxi drivers in Osh, the country’s second largest city, and throughout the southern region, with the union’s lawyer holding more than 30 consultations on workers’ rights each month.
The union is getting set to sign a second collective agreement with CARS.KG, another prominent taxi company that employs 400 taxi drivers.
Although most countries have hard-won labor laws in place, app-based drivers and 2 billion informal sector workers have few legal protections. A new six-part Solidarity Center Podcast series, “My Boss Is a Robot,” takes you on a journey with app-based drivers as they navigate a system that is programmed to exploit workers in the global gig economy. Download it here or wherever you get your podcasts.
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.
For many job seekers, joining the ranks of delivery drivers or other app-based workers is sold as entrepreneurship–a way to make money as an independent contractor and be their own boss. But the reality is much different, as workers from Africa to Latin America have found out.
“Just in Latin America, we see millions of [app-based] workers who are exploited, who are working injured, who don’t even have a minimum salary guaranteed, who are risking their life every day with no guarantees whatsoever because the company can terminate them if they deem that they’re not meeting certain standards,” says Mery Laura Perdomo, a lawyer for the International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network (ILAW), a Solidarity Center project.
Perdomo and other experts joined Solidarity Center Podcast Host Shawna Bader-Blau on App Workers Seek Level Playing Field, the second episode of “My Boss Is a Robot,” to discuss how delivery drivers and other app-based workers are excluded from basic labor protections because companies have classified them as “independent contractors”–all while enforcing rules and requirements as in a standard workplace.
But even as app companies around the world have waged multimillion dollar campaigns to prevent court decisions or legislation that would classify gig workers as employees, delivery drivers are standing up for their rights on the job.
Explore their battle for fair treatment as they seek to be recognized by companies as the employees they really are.
“My Boss Is a Robot” is a six-part series that seeks to shine a light on the behind-the-scenes practices of app companies who exploit workers in the global gig economy. Download the latest episode, App Workers Seek a Level Playing Field, and watch for the next episode on September 27.
If you work seven days a week, 12 hours a day and don’t make enough money to pay the bills, you can talk to your boss, right? Not if your boss is an app.
“My Boss Is a Robot,” a new series on The Solidarity Center Podcast, explores the challenges delivery drivers around the world face as they navigate not only dangerous traffic but a workplace where algorithms arbitrarily determine wages, hours and working conditions.
In the first episode, “21st Century Workplace: Exploitation by App,” Solidarity Center Executive Director and podcast host Shawna Bader-Blau talks with Yuly Ramírez, a delivery driver in Ecuador, who worked for Uber and Glovo.
“We used to have a base salary of $1 per hour,” says Ramírez. “Our rates were cut down almost by half. We found out that we could not make nearly as much as we were making before, not even working 12 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The episode also features Arianna Jiménez, a scholar who interviewed app-based drivers in Colombia, most of whom are migrants seeking opportunities to support themselves and their families. Jiménez discusses the vast profits of delivery corporations like Rappi in Latin America, which bases its business model on workers forced to work harder for lower and lower wages.
“They’re gaining profit from all sides and maximum cost is transferred to the individual,” says Jiménez.
“Exponential growth without investment in its workforce,” says Bader-Blau. “And, recently, during the worst parts of the pandemic in Colombia, Rappi made its drivers compete for vaccines, if you can believe it.”
App-Based Exploitation Doesn’t Stop at the Border
As the series shows, app-based workers from Thailand to Colombia face the same exploitative working conditions, as a new form of Gilded Age workforce repression spreads globally.
But like the early industrial era, delivery drivers and other app-based workers are standing up for their rights. Across Latin America, for instance, workers have been staging organized protests as early as 2018, and in Nigeria, delivery drivers formed the country’s first union of app-based workers. The series will conclude with two episodes on worker organizing in this growing industry.
“Recognize our union; negotiate with us!” Pampanga Delivery drivers cried last January 25 during the launch of the Pampanga chapter of the National Union of Delivery Riders (RIDERS). Intending to cover all platform-based delivery drivers from apps like Grab, FoodPanda and Maxim, RIDERS fights for health insurance and income security, among other basic protections.
Mark Larson (left) and Mary Rose (right)
The Solidarity Center apple to RIDERS organizers Mark Larson and Mary Rose, who were illegally terminated and suspended last December following a labor rally they both attended. They then filed a case with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and currently await the labor arbiter’s decision.
Greener Pastures in Delivery Work
“When Grab first opened in Pampanga around June 2019, we were only around 20 drivers,” says Larson.
Larson and Rose were among the pioneer Grab delivery drivers in their province. Before joining, Larson had worked as a fast-food delivery driver, and Rose was a migrant worker in Dubai. Both were enticed to join Grab because it held the opportunity of reasonable wages and flexible work hours. Both Larson and Rose are their respective families’ breadwinners, with Rose being a single mother of five and Larson supporting his family of six.
Mark (left) and Rose (right) are with their family. Faces blurred for privacy.
In the Philippines, apps like Grab utilize a cash-on-delivery system that makes delivery drivers like Larson and Rose temporarily pay for their customer’s food order. The customer then pays the delivery drivers back once they receive their order. This opens up the possibility of fake bookings, such as when the customer never claims the food.
Cracks in the System
Emerging from the pandemic, food delivery services became typical for Filipinos. The delivery boom necessitated Grab to add more delivery drivers. Research conducted in 2022 byFairwork Philippines estimates that Grab employs 40,000 delivery drivers. Its competitor, Foodpanda, employs 45,000.
However, increasing delivery drivers meant steeper competition, and fewer bookings meant less income. “Before, working late into the night was a choice. Now it is a necessity,” says Rose. “Despite consistent good performance, it is a game of chance— some accounts have stronger bookings on some days and slower bookings on others,” Larson adds.
The incentive system they used before the pandemic was also adjusted. “They may have raised the incentive amount, but they also raised the number of rides you will need to reach it. In the end, the delivery driver loses,” says Rose.
While delivery drivers in Pampanga have been complaining about these issues, the push for collective action came when Grab informed the delivery drivers that they would implement fare changes. On the day Grab Pampanga implemented the announced fare change, Pampanga delivery drivers were shocked to find fares that went below 38 pesos (about 69 cents).
Grab Pampanga’s Pricing Matrix Provided to GrabFood Delivery Drivers, 2022
Pax refers to the net income of the delivery driver per transaction. Dax is what the customer will pay. The difference between the two (Dax minus Pax) is what goes to Grab. Example computations change the base rate of around 49 pesos (about 89 cents) to 38 pesos (about 69 cents).
Larson remembers the anger and confusion that delivery drivers felt when they saw how little they would make, considering that they needed to spend their money on motorcycle maintenance, gas, mobile data and cellular load, and delivery boxes.
When management informed the delivery drivers of the change in late 2022, it was through a Zoom call where comments were screened and monitored. Grab Pampanga did not seek prior input from delivery drivers. “We also have a Discord channel with the management, but they usually just mute the chat when they don’t want to be bothered,” explains Larson.
He continues, “Delivery drivers within their areas started talking to each other, and agreed to do a motorcade and noise barrage. Almost 600 delivery drivers were a part of that first rally.”
At the time, since Larson was the team leader in his area, his fellow delivery drivers asked him to go to the Grab Pampanga management office to communicate their demands. Weeks of negotiating with management proved to be unfruitful. “They told us it was a system error, but they don’t know when it would be corrected. They said their hands were tied because they didn’t have access to the fare matrix. They only follow what the main office tells them,” Larson says.
At that point, the Pampanga management team regarded Larson as the spokesperson of the delivery drivers, specifically those who had rallied. He was given a warning because he allegedly violated the company’s code of conduct and was called to a meeting. Rose, who was present during the rally, was also issued a warning. During their meeting, management purported that Larson was the leader of the rally, and that Rose was wearing Grab’s uniform during the rally. A second meeting was called, which coincided with a planned labor rally. After attending the second rally, Larson was terminated, while Rose was indefinitely suspended.
Call to Action
“Ultimately, they’re [Grab] the ones who pushed us to unionize,” Rose says. Rose and Larson eventually attended orientation seminars and training on trade unionism and worker rights. Together with other delivery drivers, they formed the Pampanga Chapter of the United Delivery Riders of the Philippines (RIDERS).
“We saw that it was the only way for us to fight for our rights. Because if we do it individually, they will never notice us. They would just terminate us, and we would have a hard time fighting back,” says Larson, “At least now that I have a union to support me, I can fight.”
“The number one reason delivery drivers are scared,” Larson says, “is because they believe that they are not employees of the app.” In the Philippines, no specific labor law has provisions for workers in the gig economy. However, arecent ruling from the Supreme Court established an employer-employee relationship between Lazada, an e-commerce platform and its delivery drivers. Larson and Rose are hopeful that this can be the start of future legislation for delivery drivers.
Larson and Rose’s pending case with the NLRC has yet to be settled. Rose has since been reinstated but continues to fight and organize.
When Rose was asked why she continues to fight, she replied,“When you see your dignity being stepped on, you must stand up for yourself. We don’t have laws for us [delivery drivers]. Unionizing is how not only the company but also the government will notice us.”
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