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It’s a case of too little too late for Ola, Uber drivers

Sangeetha Chengappa Bengaluru | Updated on April 17, 2020 Published on April 16, 2020

April 15 was to be a red-letter day for Ola and Uber drivers Saravana K, Gangadhara C, Suresh R, Shivakumar S and many others. Instead, it turned out to be just another weekday of being locked up at home with very little to go by, as India’s 21-day lockdown got extended to May 3.

With zero savings to fall back on and no money to pay for vehicle EMIs, house rent or rations, tempers are flaring and anxiety soaring as realisation dawns that they are utterly helpless and at the mercy of their employers Ola and Uber as well as the government, for their daily bread.

Gangadhara C, 37, an Ola and Uber driver since 2014, who incurs expenses of ₹31,000 a month including vehicle EMI (₹18,000), mobile EMI (₹3,000), house rent and rations is down to one meal a day since the last 10 days.

“I have my wife, two boys aged 3 and 6, and my mother who depend on me, and I feel terrible that instead of three meals a day, we have one meal and fill our stomachs with plenty of water after that. There is neither support from the government nor from Ola or Uber. I have been making missed calls to the helpline numbers provided by Ola and Uber every day, but I am yet to receive rations or money from them. My older brother who lives in Mandya asked me to get back to the village with my family, but the police are not giving me a pass to go back home,” he told BusinessLine.

Saravana K, an Ola and Uber driver for the last six years, is suffering a similar fate.

“I have been reading reports in the newspapers about Ola and Uber giving out rations and money but I have received nothing till today. They are giving out rations and money to 10-20 drivers and making out as if they are supporting thousands of drivers. The State Government hasn’t provided any relief package yet,” he said.

Aid on paper only

Disregarding RBI guidelines giving drivers a three-month waiver for EMI payments from April-June, private vehicle financiers are pressurising drivers to pay up through calls, messages and threats to seize their vehicles if they don’t comply, pointed out Somashekar K, President of Namma Chalakara Trade Union (NCTU) who leads 10,000 driver-members from Ola, Uber, Taxi Cabs and Call Centre Cabs, and Vice President – Karnataka, Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers (IFAT).

“Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has promised to help yellow board vehicle drivers with ₹5,000 per head, Kerala Chief Minister has also offered a special package for taxi and auto drivers last month. However, nothing has been announced by our government for yellow board drivers. We have started a group on the Telegram app called NCTU Bhavishya Nidhi, where drivers on this group have been asked to contribute ₹20 each since January 21, 2020. Collections from 450 drivers have amounted to ₹4.6 lakh. We have now disbursed ₹1,000 each to these drivers from the amount collected, to tide over these difficult times of zero income,” he said.

Suresh R, 31, one of the many drivers BusinessLine spoke to, said he had received ₹3,000 in his account from Uber yesterday, which is a big relief, but nothing from Ola yet.

“When we attach our cars to Ola they take a ₹3,000 deposit from us which is to be refunded when we quit Ola. We are now asking Ola to return that deposit, and to cut it from our daily income once we resume duty. If I die due to coronavirus, will they refund it to my family? asks Shivakumar S.

K Radhakrishna Holla, President of Karnataka State Travel Operators Association, said, “We have received some relief from the Central Government in the form of a three-month moratorium on EMI payments and waiver of PF contribution up to June for SMEs with up to 100 people, where 90 per cent must be in the sub-₹15,000 per month salary bracket. While we had appealed to the State Government last month to address multiple issues that we are facing, so far the government has only responded by pushing the payment of road tax from April 1 to June 1, without waiving it. I have written to the Chief Minister asking that the government take care of 50 per cent salary of unorganised employees, provide zero-interest loans for travel industry for the next two years to overcome shortage of transactional capital, exemption from road tax for six months, and stop collection of indirect taxes for two years. If this is not done, we are doomed.”

Uber, Ola say they are doing their bit

Asked what Uber is doing to make life easy for its driver partners, Prabhjeet Singh, Director - Operations and Head of Cities, Uber India & South Asia, said, “We are working with different banks to make sure EMI moratorium is being followed. To ensure the health/safety of our driver partners and their families, we have organised medical consultations. We have started giving out small grants to our driver partners over the last five days, from the Uber Care Driver Fund. A small percentage of our drivers are back on the roads with our new services including UberMedic, Uber Essential and partnerships with Flipkart and BigBasket for deliveries of essentials.”

Ola’s ‘Drive the Driver Fund’ offers relief to the driver community who currently has no income, while Ola ‘Sahyog’ gives interest-free, pre-approved credit of up to ₹3,600 through Avail Finance, to be disbursed to drivers operating autos, cabs, kaali-peelis and taxis on the Ola platform. “We can confirm that we are fully waiving away lease rentals, akin to an EMI, for driver partners who operate vehicles owned by Ola’s subsidiary, Ola Fleet Technologies, under its leasing program,” said an Ola spokesperson.

Published on April 16, 2020

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