Uber, Bolt drivers win union rights; after 7 years struggle

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e-hailing drivers play an increasingly important role within the chaotic traffic system in Nigerian cities

History was recently made with the registration of the Amalgamated Union of App-Based Transport Workers of Nigeria (AUATWN). This is the first time in Africa that an e-hailing drivers’ combination has been accorded such recognition which enables the drivers to negotiate for improved pay and working conditions. 

This was not something given out of the benevolence of the heart of the minister of labour. It is the product of seven years of struggle and solidarity. 

In 2017, Uber drivers self-organised to resist Uber’s slashing of their income by up to 40% without any consultation whatsoever.In the wake of that action three different associations emerged; the National Union of Professional App-based Transport Workers (NUPA-BTW), the Professional E-hailing Drivers and Private Owners Association of Nigeria (PEDPAN) and the National Coalition of Ride-Sharing Partners (NACORP). 

Each of these earlier bodies fought for the rights of e-hailing drivers, with the two major employers in the sector (Uber and Bolt). A key turning point in their struggle was the PEDPAN strike of APRIL 2021. 

The union organised e-hailing drivers for a week-long strike. Their demands included a price review, in the light of cuts in the prices of e-hailing cabs as cut-throat competitive practices between both Uber and Bolt. The drivers also put forward a demand, which they won, for the reduction of their commission to the companies from 25% to 10%.

In August of the same year, NACORP took up the case of its members’ safety and security. At that time, at least three e-hailing drivers had been killed by unknown passengers in three months. Several others suffered harassment. 

The unions also organised e-hailing drivers to resist policies of state governments which did not take the drivers’ rights and interests into cognisance. For example, NUPA-BTW organised a strike of its members in 2020, when the Lagos state government introduced some measures, which included the introduction of a 10% service charge for every ride on the apps, without a corresponding policy to ensure that the companies do not pass down this added transaction cost to the drivers. 

Realising the strength in unity, the three unions came together to form AUATWN, which applied for registration in 2021. 

Socialist Worker Weekly congratulates AUATWN and all e-hailing drivers on this victory. We however urge the union to never forget that, whilst the registration certificate provides a legal basis for its operation as a trade union, its greatest power lies in organising, and thus building workers’ power, such as that with which this trade union right to collective bargaining was won in the first place. 

The registration of AUATWN will be an inspiration for e-hailing drivers combinations across the continent. From Egypt to South Africa, they have organized and fought back, winning some concessions, which the e-hailing companies grab back almost as soon as they are won. Struggle and solidarity across the continent and across the world is the key to victory.

by Muda OGIDAN

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