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Muslim Uber driver allegedly attacked, TGPWU condemns company’s absent safety measures

The TGPWU, a gig workers’ union in Telangana, slammed Uber for inadequate safety of drivers after a case of assault laced with communalism

What’s the news: As many as six men on September 4 allegedly assaulted Hyderabad-based Uber driver Syed Lateefuddin and wrecked his vehicle that was travelling from Shaikpet to Tolichowki in the city. Criticising the lack of safety measures, the Telangana Gig And Platform Workers Union (TGPWU) demanded that the ride-hailing company compensate Lateefuddin for repair (₹ 1-1.5 lakhs) and hospital costs and provide a daily income compensation of ₹1200 while his vehicle remains out of commission.

Within a day of the incident, the police found the accused using CCTV footage that matched Lateefuddin’s statement. While the TGPWU appreciated the police for remanding the six men in custody, leaders asked about the steps the company had taken to save its gig workers.

Why it matters: For the past few months, gig workers employed via different online platforms have asked for regularisation and social security benefits at the Parliamentary-level. In July, Swiggy workers launched an indefinite strike to protest low wages, reduced incentives and safety concerns. Incidents of such attacks on workers who are not defined under any existing central labour laws, highlight the urgency in addressing these demands. Particularly in the case of cab platforms, it it observed that while the company is (apparently) eager to ensure customer safety, the same does not seem true for drivers.

Lateefuddin chased amid ‘Jai Shree Ram’ chants

Lateefuddin was driving to pick up a passenger from an isolated area around 3:30 AM on Sunday when the men allegedly began hitting the back of his car. As per his account the men identified his religion when he asked them to stop harassing him. The accused then allegedly began to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and cornered him at a dead-end.

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“Two of the men forcibly opened his car door and started to beat him up, while continuing to chant “Jai Shri Ram”, while the other four men used large rocks to severely damage his car’s side windows and front windshield,” said the TGPWU in a press release.

According to Lateefuddin, he tried to call Uber’s emergency services several times after he escaped but did not get any response. He then called the police who arrived at the scene shortly afterward.

“The police did their duty but what is Uber’s duty here? Lateefuddin tried to use the panic button many times. Shouldn’t the company tell its employees how the SOS options work before sending them out to these regions?” said TGPWU State President Shaik Salauddin.

The Union called the company’s  lack of response on the matter (and numerous others, as per the press release) an “unacceptable failure to take accountability for their drivers’ well-being and safety.” As such, it demanded that the company:

  • Work with drivers and unions to identify dangerous areas across Indian cities and fix timebound bookings to those areas
  • Revamp Uber’s emergency infrastructure for drivers’ safety, and publicly announce Uber’s commitments to drivers regarding emergency response times and available support.
  • Establish mechanisms to protect drivers from disadvantaged groups from the dangers they commonly face while driving for Uber

Salauddin argued that while Lateefuddin survived the incident with minor injuries, the result could have resulted in his death. Last month, a Swiggy customer requested that they “did not want a Muslim delivery person,” highlighting how even gig workers are affected by the growing communal sentiment in the country. The incident was condemned by MPs as well.

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Uber must take responsibility for drivers’ safety

According to the TGPWU, Uber allegedly did not answer Lateefuddin’s repeated emergency calls, “leaving him stranded,” pointing to a severe inadequacy of the emergency infrastructure. Witnesses told the police that similar attacks on drivers had happened multiple times in that same area, said the Union.

“There have been numerous such accidents across Indian cities in which Uber has failed to respond or provide drivers with support. This event, and Uber’s subsequent inaction, points to a serious failing in the ride-hailing sector in India,” said the TGPWU.

There has been at least one incident of casualty within the gig workers community every month. In August, a Swiggy delivery person died in the city in a road accident. Before that in July, a Zomato delivery person in Indore was brutally murdered. In May, an Ola-cab driver Muhammad Ali was murdered in Thane, Maharashtra, reported Sabrang India.

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“Drivers of all religions, communities and genders should be safe in doing this work, and it is Uber’s responsibility to guarantee their protection. We call on Uber to do the same for all the drivers risking their lives for Uber,” said TGPWU.

MediaNama has reached out to Uber with the following questions on the matter:

1. Whether Uber has offered any compensation to Lateefuddin for the experience?
2. What measures does Uber take to ensure the safety of the drivers?
3. Whether Uber has blacklisted dangerous areas in cities where such incidents have previously occurred?
4. Whether Uber has received a list of demands from the Telangana Gig And Platform Workers Union (TGPWU) and the company’s response to the same?

This post is released under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license. Please feel free to republish on your site, with attribution and a link. Adaptation and rewriting, though allowed, should be true to the original.

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