A strike among Uber Eats drivers has almost paralysed the food-delivery service in Gauteng over the past two days – and may start nationwide from Wednesday.

Duane Bernard, who represents the Uber Driver Partners association, says drivers are protesting the sharp fall in their income over recent months, after Uber Eats cut delivery fees.

Bernard says that the vast majority of Uber Eats drivers in Johannesburg and Pretoria did not work on Friday and Saturday. Some restaurants have also switched off their Uber Eats service in support, he claims.

The drivers will return to work on Sunday, to give Uber Eats a chance to consider their demands. Bernard says if they have not had a response by Wednesday, drivers across the country have committed to start a nationwide strike next week, according to Bernard.

“We are aware of a group of delivery-drivers who have gone offline in Johannesburg and Pretoria,” an Uber Eats spokesperson told Business Insider SA. The company says it is currently “engaging” with delivery-drivers, but Bernard says he’s not aware of any acknowledgement from the company.

In response to pressure from restaurants, Uber Eats recently lowered its delivery fees from 30% per delivery (plus 5% to the driver), to a capped fee of around R9 per meal, says Bernard.

While driver fees vary in different areas, Bernard says drivers are currently earning around R4 a kilometre.

The drivers want a minimum delivery fee of R20 for the first two kilometres for Uber Eats deliveries, and for Uber’s new courier service, Uber Connect, drivers want a minimum of R30 for the first two kilometres.

“There’s no courier service than can run on R4 a kilometre,” says Bernard. The drivers also want Uber to limit its courier deliveries to less than 100km, as many drivers use scooters and can’t access the highways.

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In addition, the drivers object to their accounts being blocked “for no apparent reason”, and they also want Uber to stop using labour brokers. They claim that applicants who apply via these third parties have to pay large fees – but if they apply directly, they end up waiting many months to get activated on Uber Eats.

Bernard says Uber Eats is exploiting its drivers, and contends that average earnings have halved in the past three years.

For its part, the Uber Eats spokesperson says more affordable fees are designed to help delivery-drivers by boosting user demand so more people are ordering more often through the Uber Eats app. “As a result, delivery-partners will spend more time making deliveries and less time sitting idly waiting for orders.”

The spokesperson said the company implemented “temporary incentives” for delivery-drivers to compensate for the fee cuts.

Its sister service, Uber,  recently also introduced a new cheaper option that starts from R19 a trip, using predominantly hatchback cars. This followed a similar move by Bolt, whose cheap “Bolt Go” option triggered a nationwide strike in November, as drivers complained about the impact on their earnings.

Earlier this year, the Competition Commission issued a scathing report about the practices of e-hailing services in South Africa, claiming that some of their drivers are earning below minimum wage.

Users of Uber Eats in Gauteng have vented their frustration about the disruption of service on social media:

 

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