Ride hailing giant Uber’s challenge to the US state of California’s quest to classify the app’s driver as “employees” was heard last week. Though pending an appeal, the ruling may set global precedence on how digital engagements and gig-economies will see their current “partners” classified as employees.
Gig-economies are seen as the future of work, by allowing almost anyone, anywhere to get on a job platform. With their growth, traditional societal and regulatory expectations on such contracts are unravelling.
Closer home, driver protests with such ride-hailing firms have centred on commissions taxed and rates charged per kilometre. Regulators have also opined on whether they should be subject to PSV and NTSA requirements.
Without offices or working hours, it is hard deciding if they fall under casual labour or employment. As such, imposing formal workplace rules has been hard. One works for as few hours as they wish, but have a maximum number they can work.
For all the convenience such apps bring, engagements or disengagements with “employees” are as mechanical as they come. No human resource office, no welfare support, almost everything works like a machine. I suspect in the future, AI will take over the customer engagement, if it hasn’t already happened.
The Californian court’s ruling seems to suggest that a relationship exists between the two entities, beyond provision of a tech platform.
As such, certain entitlements offered to employees should accrue. Top of which are statutory deductions like health and pension plans.
While Uber seems to argue to the contrary, our local scenario demands perhaps a fresh pair of lenses for the problem. Most drivers identify with the apps as their job. In this case, health benefits of riders and drivers should come to consideration.
Concern over road safety saw Uber commendably implement a “sleep-switch”, regulating maximum consecutive hours one could drive or ride. However, a multiplicity of apps, allows circumnavigation. They simply log off one, and hop onto the other.
No regular, official stats are available on total drivers, riders, road safety figures, as well as frequency of medical needs and retirement preparations for drivers per app. By their numbers, ride-hailing and by extension drivers’ needs will only grow.
Left to themselves, like most employees, few drivers would pay for statutory deductions. Responsible organisations mandates meeting legal, regulatory, environmental and societal needs of employees/ partners.
To anchor themselves as innovative digital workplaces, these firms should initiate a practice of withholding Ksh 20 bob every day or Ksh 3 from each ride towards drivers’ NHIF and NSSF contributions.
Such amounts are miniscule to be felt as income dents, compared to the one-off Sh500 and Sh200-month end deductions.
With the raging Covid-19 pandemic, cabs are also potentially risky workplaces. Accidents too mean income loss and potentially bankrupting medical bills if hospitalised without NHIF.