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Covid-19 causes financial sickness among Gig workers

Sangeetha Chengappa Bengaluru | Updated on March 19, 2020 Published on March 19, 2020

Desperate times in the wake of the Covid-19 shutdown call for desperate measures. Gig worker Shivakumar, a driver with Uber and Ola in Bengaluru for the last three years is desperately trying to hawk his Tata Indica so that he can clear his reloan of ₹1 lakh and go back to farming, but to no avail. Until three weeks ago, the 30-year-old was earning ₹22 per km during peak hours and ₹17 per km during non-peak hours if he completed 10 trips a day. However, negligible earnings in the last three weeks has broken his spirit and weakened his resolve to continue in the city.

Girish K, a call centre driver on the midnight shift and also a driver with Ola and Uber during the day hasn’t paid his EMI of ₹15,000 for his Swift Desire this month. “I would log around 12-15 trips a day, but in the last few weeks I managed just 2-3 trips a day. Firstsource Solutions, the American call centre I am working for has shut down for a month due to COVID-19 and I hardly get any trips because most people are working from home” he told BusinessLine.

Both the drivers and many others BusinessLine spoke to said, after the cab aggregators take 30 per cent commission on each ride, and deduct GST, customer convenience fee and ride tax, there is not much to take home.

Somashekar K, President of Namma Chalakara Trade Union (NCTU) who leads 10,000 driver-members from Ola, Uber, Taxi Cabs and Call Centre Cabs pointed out that trips for hatchbacks and sedans have fallen drastically from 15 rides a day to just 1 or 2 since March 13, when the Karnataka chief minister ordered shutdown of malls, multiplexes, schools, colleges, universities, public gatherings, weddings, conferences and sporting events. “We have written to the RBI asking for a two-month waiver of EMI payments and have even appealed to the Chief Minister to make it possible and are awaiting their responses.” The NCTU launched free ambulance services 10 days ago for drivers and their families afflicted by coronavirus.

K Radhakrishna Holla, President of Karnataka State Travel Operators Association says, members are not in a position to repay bank loans, State Road Tax and office maintenance charges and has appealed to the Government to provide six-months relaxation on tax arrears, penalty on taxes and three-months waiver for State Road Tax for passenger/tourist vehicles. “More than 80 per cent of passenger transport vehicles movement has been hit due to Coronavirus outbreak, puncturing our transport industry. We have also asked the Central Government to waive GST, National Highway toll charges, direct/indirect taxes. And have requested for free parking facilities at the international airport (KIAL)” he told BusinessLine.

Ola and Uber claim to have set up walk-in centres in affected cities with supplies of health advisory material, sanitisers, masks and disinfectants; and are helping driver or delivery persons who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or is individually asked to self isolate by a public health authority with financial assistance for upto 14 days, while their account is on hold. But these are just eyewash accuse stakeholders.

“Their claims are only for window dressing. Instead Ola and Uber should be employing extra staff to reach out to drivers at vantage pick up points in the cities, to distribute health advisory materials, sanitisers and disinfectants as drivers cannot go all the way searching for these walk-in centres at the cost of losing valuable time and earnings,” said Shaik Salauddin, National General Secretary, Indian Federation of App based Transport Workers (IFAT).

Even after coronavirus spread to Hyderabad, I still have to travel 250 kms a day to achieve my targets, said an Ola/Uber driver who did not want to be named.

Tanveer Pasha, President of Ola Uber Drivers and Owners Association, who has organised 500 free face masks for fellow drivers plans to up that to 5,000 mask in the next few days. “We require free facemasks, hand sanitisers, disinfectants and free health check up camps for our drivers. Is that too much to ask” he said.

“Ola and Uber need to set up a task force consisting of members from various internal departments to ensure continuous monitoring and support for all stakeholders. Driver Care teams, Safety Response teams should be available 24/7 for any concerns that may arise for drivers and customers respectively, added Kamaljeet Singh, National Vice-President, IFAT.

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Published on March 19, 2020
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