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The South African Federation of Trade Union (Saftu) says it is going to meet Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, regarding conditions of workers in the minibus taxi industry, e-hailing and in the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). On Wednesday, the trade union federation held a press conference with some e-hailing drivers to announce their effort to help the drivers form a union.

Flanked by the e-hailing operators, the general secretary of Saftu, Zwelinzima Vavi read the statement detailing the challenges that the drivers face. Because drivers do not have a fixed workplace, employers have absolved themselves from paying compensation for injury on duty and other benefits that should accrue. The drivers are not registered as employees and consequently do not have access to unemployment insurance or skills development benefits. They are, in fact, operating outside the protections of the constitution, and international conventions.  

“In this country, the e-hailing drivers have been fighting for their rights, their livelihoods, and due to violent hostilities against other transport modes, for their lives,” Vavi says. E-hailing drivers have been fighting for recognition since a 2017 case of an Uber driver resolved in favour of the app. “In 2017, in a CCMA ruling in favour of a driver who had been blocked from the app following a client complaint, the CCMA ruled that the driver and Uber had a normal employer/employee relationship and that blocking of the driver from the app without a hearing was unfair. Regrettably, the Labour Court ruled against the driver on appeal, based on pure technicality that the driver had cited the UK Uber instead of the local operator. Nonetheless, the CCMA ruling represented a crossroads. Saftu will take that ruling on review or launch a new case for recognition of the e-hailing drivers as employees,” reads the statement.

Palesa Sempe, a driver herself and a coordinator, called for unity to end their exploitation by Uber and Bolt. Her counterpart, Thato Ramaila said that the fight to be recognised as employees is a war that involves all the drivers irrespective of their differences: “Let’s take this opportunity to collaborate and organise under the federation [Saftu]. This is a class war.” He said they have collected evidence to back their charges of labour law violations by Uber and Bolt.

One of the drivers, known only as Ivy, poured her heart out on how she misses spending time with her child due to the long and irregular hours she works as a driver. She starts her day from as early as 04h00 until 19h30. “I’m literally working all the time. I don’t have time to rest. I don’t have holidays as clients keep on requesting rides. At the end of the week, I get only R600 or R900, while the rest – more than R3,000 – goes to the employer. Tell me what do you do with that when the price of petrol keeps fluctuating, and the maintenance of the car is on your shoulder? They don’t even say anything on our safety,” she lamented.