“They’re treating us like rubbish”: Uber drivers in South Africa have joined a union

Seeking strength in numbers.
Seeking strength in numbers.
Image: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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Having previously faced protests by taxi associations in various African cities in which it operates, the ride-hailing service Uber is now facing resistance from its own drivers.

Around 500 of the 4,000 Uber drivers in South Africa have joined the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU) with a view to possibly initiate legal action against Uber, Zanele Sabela, the union’s spokesperson says. The drivers have requested the union’s assistance, she says, “as they are unhappy with their working conditions.” 

“The drivers say the rates Uber is charging are too low‚” Sabela said. “These are not competitive rates and the drivers are not getting much out of it.” In addition, Sabela says, the drivers complain about Uber’s ability to deactivate drivers from its system ”without consultation” as it is ”tantamount to dismissal if one’s only occupation is driving an Uber.”

“They take a quarter of what I make every trip. They’re treating us like rubbish,” Joseph Munzvenga, a Cape Town-based Uber driver, was quoted as saying by CNBC Africa. “We have to work long hours for little income. The cost of living is too much. We’re not benefiting anything from Uber. It just came to Africa to abuse Africans.”

The driver’s alliance with the union is the latest hiccup for Uber’s South Africa’s operations, which have hardly been smooth. It has faced fierce protests from taxi associations and its drivers have also been subjected to violent attacks, forcing the company to enlist a private security firm for emergency situations.

Munzvenga says the union will help drivers get a better deal from Uber. “We joined SATAWU because they have resources to help us fight Uber. Uber can dismiss an individual but cannot dismiss an entity.”

Its not the first Uber driver unionization drive. Drivers in New York scored a win when Uber struck a deal with the Independent Drivers Guild that represents 35,000 drivers in the city. The guild’s deal with Uber allows drivers to hold meetings with Uber management as well as the “power to appeal” when Uber decides to deactivate a driver’s account. In California, the Teamsters Union says it will “welcome any Uber drivers seeking to improve their working conditions,” to form a group that will “push Uber to provide better wages and working conditions and give the contractors a stronger voice.”