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COVID-19: Uber, Ola taxi drivers call for reducing commissions till ‘business returns to normalcy’

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The Indian Federation of App based Transport Workers (IFAT), an association that has members from 19 Indian states, has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to direct the cab aggregators to reduce their commissions to 5% till the time the COVID-19 pandemic is controlled and business returns to normalcy. 492 people in India have tested positive for the virus, which has so far claimed 9 lives in the country, according to data maintained by the health ministry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced states and union territories in India to curtail the movement of people out on the streets. A curfew has been imposed in the national capital. Schools, colleges, shopping malls remain shut, and many companies around the country have asked their employees to work from home. The coronavirus pandemic, which has forced people to quarantine themselves in their homes, has inevitably put Uber, Ola drivers’ livelihoods on life support. “This morning a driver called me crying, and asked for help. They are finding it hard to put food on the table,”national general secretary of IFAT, Shaik Salauddin told MediaNama.

Ola, Uber, Swiggy, Zomato, IT companies and tours and travel companies among others, have not responded to any calls for economic and social support to the drivers, “who they do not even consider as their employees” and hence feel free of any legal or social responsibilities towards them, IFAT alleged. Yesterday, Uber decided to temporarily suspend “some or all of its services”, and Ola reportedly said that it would enable a minimal network of vehicles. We have reached out to Uber, Ola, Swiggy and Zomato for comment.

“Earlier we easily used to earn anywhere between Rs 800 – Rs 1,000 in a day, but following the lockdown, that has now reduced to Rs 300 – Rs 350. We request Uber and Ola to not charge more than 5% in commissions in the coming 5-6 months. We make this request on humanitarian grounds,” national general secretary of IFAT, Shaik Salauddin told MediaNama.

Drivers feeling the pinch of the lockdown: Drivers who have to pay monthly instalments towards their vehicle are also facing a dire situation as a result, IFAT wrote in the letter, and called for public and private sector banks to consider a 3 months waiver/deferment of EMIs on vehicle loans taken by app-based drivers/riders. They’ve also requested the Prime Minister to allow state minimum wages to the delivery persons of Swiggy and Zomato.

“Uber, Ola, Swiggy and Zomato should give out a loan of at least Rs 10,000 to each of their drivers and delivery partners. We will repay the amount in weekly instalments once business gains normalcy, but I request these companies to not charge an interest on these loans,” Salauddin told us.

“The government should not charge road tax from yellow number plate vehicles for the foreseeable future, and even if it does, it should at least not charge penalties on late payment of the road tax,” Salauddin said. He added that  IT companies, especially in Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad should not cut salaries of drivers who currently are not ferrying their employees around, given that most of them are working from home.

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Uber and Ola offer financial benefits to drivers diagnosed with COVID-19: Both Ola and Uber have announced financial support for drivers who are affected by the virus. Uber’s senior vice president for rides and platform, Andrew Macdonald told MediaNama that the aggregator is providing financial assistance to anyone who drives or delivers with Uber and is diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in individual quarantine by a public health authority. Meanwhile, Ola driver-partners and their spouses will be offered free medical support & covered for income loss of upto Rs. 30,000 if tested COVID-19 positive.

However, according to a Scroll report, experts believe that the country is simply not testing enough people for the virus. According to a Financial Times report, only 17,000 people in India were tested for the virus till March 22. South Korea, for comparison, tests as many people every day, the report said. However, the government has now allowed a few private laboratories to carry out the testing.

Besides, not everyone can get tested for the virus currently. As per guidelines laid down by the Indian Council of Medical Research, only people showing symptoms of the disease, with an international travel history, or symptomatic people who have come in contact with confirmed coronavirus cases can be tested.

What about drivers not diagnosed with COVID-19? One thing to note here is that Uber and Ola’s financial assistance only covers drivers who have been diagnosed with the virus. They have so far not talked of any financial assistance to other drivers.

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