Worker unions, research groups question Ola’s intent to redo driver experience

Yatti Soni Bengaluru | Updated on August 31, 2021

Bhavish Aggarwal, Co-founder of Ola   -  The Hindu

Say business model itself needs drastic changes

Ola’s Bhavish Aggarwal’s promise to redo the driver experience of the cab-hailing service did not sit well with transport worker unions and research groups, who have questioned the company’s intent.

Last week, Ola’s founder Aggarwal took to Twitter to say that the company is redoing the driver experience of Ola cabs.

“[We] will solve many issues around payments, cancellations etc for drivers, customers. 1-2 months will see significant improvement. Totally focussed on making Ola the most convenient platform for all, especially our driver partners,” the tweet read.

Atypical tweet

While issues around driver experience have existed for years now, it is often twitter bots and customer care executives that respond to such concerns of both drivers and customers. Agarwal’s tweet is one of the rare acknowledgements of the issue by a company founder.

However, researchers and unions are questioning the timing of this announcement. Ever since the pandemic, drivers have been asking for loan moratoriums and income support, but there has hardly been any company response to those demands in the past one year.

“I would read this Tweet very cautiously due to its timing – ride-hailing companies are recording falling revenues, over 35,000 workers are estimated to have dropped out from these apps in the past few months, and they have been receiving a lot of flak on social media with drivers highlighting many unfair employment conditions. Ola’s stand on a good driver experience is not clear at all,” Abhishek Sekharan, Researcher - Labour and Social Justice, Centre for Internet and Society, told BusinessLine.

Unsustainable business model

Sekharan also pointed to the fact that a lot of the issues of drivers arise from Ola’s business model itself which would need drastic changes, such as fixing information asymmetries, enhancing the control of drivers over their earnings, deciding their trips, payment structures, rate cards, and acknowledging them as employees rather than independent contractors. While cab-hailing companies claim that drivers have a lot of flexibility in their work, the low earnings and unachievable targets defined by the company push workers to put in overtime.

BusinessLine queries sent to Ola did not elicit a response till the time of publication.

“The company keeps saying that the driver has the flexibility to decide their work timings, but if he is not able to earn a minimum wage in a 12-hour shift, they will have to run after targets and work overtime. If there is genuine intent in the company’s promise, then they should adjust payments in a way that the driver earns minimum wage in a 12 hour shift,” said Shaik Salauddin, National General Secretary, ofInternet Federation of App Based Transport Workers (IFAT).

Lack of company support

He added that working overtime and not getting enough sleep are the main reasons why drivers run into so many accidents; there are about 12 accidents every month. Other issues raised by the transport worker’s union have been the lack of a proper grievance redressal system and the frequency of driver’s payment settlements.

“We have been asking for everyday payment settlement but they are still giving a 24-hour settlement. The drivers keep asking the mode of payment from customers, because they also need cash to refuel their vehicles and this is another reason why drivers sometimes have to cancel rides,” added Salauddin.

Further, the union also claims that Ola does not take any responsibility whenever a driver runs into trouble. While there is a customer care number that works after multiple tries, they have not been able to get appropriate redressal from the company.

“The very basics of the business model need to change to solve these issues and companies need to bring their investors on board for that, they also need to consult worker collectives and union representatives on how to set wages and what rates of commissions to be charged,” Sekharan added.

Published on August 30, 2021

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