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Why Africa's Uber and Bolt drivers are filing lawsuits

Why Africa's Uber and Bolt drivers are filing lawsuits
By get.Africa Weekly • Issue #66 • View online
That’s “good morning” in Xhosa
In February, Uber lost a class-action lawsuit in the UK; the Supreme Court ruled that its drivers were employees, not independent contractors, and were entitled to minimum wage, holiday pay and pensions plans. 
The ruling might have been delivered in a UK courtroom but its impact has been felt thousands of kilometres away.
In South Africa, Uber drivers are set to file a similar class-action lawsuit against the ride-hailing giant. They’re being assisted by Leigh Day, the law firm that, get this, also represented Uber drivers in the UK. 
Have your cake and eat it too
The demands by Uber drivers in SA and the UK are similar: classify us as employees. 
However, in SA, Uber seems to have already weakened its case significantly. 
In 2020, during a Competition Commission Inquiry the company acknowledged that, due to factors like income disparity and high rates of unemployment, SA drivers are unlike gig workers in the USA in that they usually have to work full-time and often drive vehicles they don’t own.
By the way, this is also true for drivers in many other countries around the continent.
Driving for ride-hailing companies is often marketed as an opportunity to be self-employed, “be your own boss” and that sort of thing. But while these companies promise autonomy, on the one hand, they use technology to tightly control, monitor and evaluate their drivers on the other. 
And that’s the crux of both class-action lawsuits. If ride-hailing companies want to control drivers like employees, drivers are demanding to be compensated like them.
More to come
Citing the UK case, drivers in Nigeria are filing a lawsuit of their own against Uber and its main competitor, Bolt. 
These cases are now trickling in, while frequent strikes and protests provide the backdrop. In SA, the latest protest against ride-hailing companies held last month. In Nigeria, there were protests last week. While in Kenya, there are fresh protests scheduled for next month. 
But the solution isn’t as easy as giving drivers what they want. 
The ride-hailing industry is still in its infancy, with no big player, not even Uber, currently making a profit. Acceding to driver demands will, therefore, only deepen the losses.
The problem is with the business model: ride-hailing companies are often drawn into price wars where the winner is not them or the drivers, but the customer.
This article questions whether this model is even viable long-term. As more countries in Africa and across the world assess what happened in the UK, those questions will get more, not less.

Credit: American Heritage Chocolate
Credit: American Heritage Chocolate
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