Drivers working for Uber and Ola taxi service companies have been on strike in the National Capital Region of Delhi since 10th February. They are led by Sarvodaya Drivers Association of Delhi and Rajdhani Tourist Drivers’ Union. There are around 150,000 taxis attached to Uber and Ola in Delhi.
Uber and Ola are capitalist companies which have been competing and collaborating to monopolise taxi services in Delhi and other cities in the country. In order to wipe out all other competitors, both Uber and Ola have been offering cheaper rates and all kinds of schemes such as shared fares and free rides. They also offered attractive incentives to taxi drivers to become part of their network. Having gained the lion’s share of the market, they are now squeezing the drivers dry.
The drivers were promised gross earning to the tune of Rs 1,25,000 per month. After paying the monthly loan instalments (EMI) on the car and other expenses, a driver could take home upward of Rs 40,000 per month. This attracted many taxi drivers to join. However, once they did, Uber and Ola increased their commission and cancelled incentives paid to the drivers. This, along with a steep increase in the supply of taxis on the road, has resulted in a steep fall in the drivers’ gross monthly incomes, to as low as Rs 25,000.
Most of the drivers have taken loans from the same companies, to the tune of Rs 4,50,000 each to purchase the taxi. They have to pay monthly instalments of about Rs 16,000. Hence a gross income of Rs 25,000 leaves them with no money to feed themselves and their families. Praveen Kumar, an Uber driver, committed suicide on 12th February, being unable to pay the monthly instalments and threatened with loss of his taxi.
Strike struggles of Uber and Ola drivers have also taken place in Bengaluru and Pune, on 23rd January and 2nd February respectively. They have taken place in other countries as well.
Uber and Ola have loaded the drivers with enormous risk, by calling them “business partners” and making them purchase cars on loan. While they have to work hard for extremely long hours every day, the drivers have neither a guaranteed minimum income nor any other rights of a salaried worker.
The owners of Uber and Ola approached the Delhi High Court against the striking drivers. They accused the unions of hampering their profitable business model. The Delhi High Court has instructed the police to ensure the safety of drivers who break the strike. It has also warned the unions that they have to “get it out of their head” that they can “extract” something from these companies by agitations as they do with the government.
The blatantly anti-labour and pro-capitalist ruling of the Delhi High Court is in stark contrast with the recent verdict of a Brazilian court, which ruled that Uber drivers have to be treated as employees of the company, with all the associated rights and entitlements.