There’s little doubt among the cab drivers that the fantasy of a happy life that they was sold to them by the ride-hailing companies—Ola and Uber—is just a pie in the sky. Even as many as 12 to 13 hours of work every single day is not enough to secure a decent living for them and their families. Every savings planning seems to have failed in dealing with the mounting debts that have crushed the drivers. However, the worst thing amid all this is that the plight doesn’t even end here.
Over 3,000 cab drivers in Bengaluru are facing the same brutal reality, and they are set to observe a strike on September 30 demanding that the government, once again, regulate the cab aggregators. The strike is being led by Namma Chalakka Trade Union (NCTU).
NewsClick spoke to Somashekhar K, president of NCTU, according to whom, the main objective of the strike is to remind the Karnataka state government of its responsibilities to look after its citizens.
“Private companies like Ola and Uber are backed with strong legal teams and political patronage which makes it hard for the drivers to win a fight against these firms,” he said, explaining the Yediyurappa-led BJP government should pay heed to the prevailing informal structures of the ‘gig economy’ that allows for exploitation of the workers, who are overworked and underpaid.
The home-grown Ola was founded in 2011, whereas Uber entered India in 2013. Over the period, numerous strikes have been staged—mostly in the recent past—by the drivers in various metropolitan cities. At the heart of all these strikes was the fight against the cab aggregators, who are no longer interested in wooing the drivers through incentives; thanks to the contractualisation of the Indian labour force that has resulted in lack of opportunities for the individuals, pushing them towards the informal sector. According to an IndiaSpend analysis of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data, 92% of 61 million jobs created in India over the post-liberalisation period were informal jobs.
“One reason that the strikes in the past have not been effective in changing the material conditions of the drivers is that they have failed in pressuring the state or the central governments to act upon,” said Somashekhar.
NCTU demands that the Karnataka government allow drivers to install digital metres—similar to that of Mumbai’s black and yellow taxis. This will help the drivers offer their services independently and bring in an alternative to Ola and Uber.
“We believe that bringing in digital metres will also mean more financial independence to a driver,” added Somashekhar.
In the past, especially in the state of Karnataka, attempts have been made to launch a more driver-friendly app-based cab service. In 2017, Namma TYGR was started by drivers who were dissatisfied with the market leaders Ola and Uber. The app was backed by Janata Dal (Secular) leader H D Kumaraswamy, which also offered free healthcare, accident and life cover among other benefits to the drivers. However, only after a year, with operations of Namma TYGR getting delayed, the cabbies were left in a lurch, as Times of India had reported.
The union believes that only an alternative to the Ola, Uber business model can provide some relief to the drivers. However, it is yet to be seen how effective will be the September 30 strike in the technology capital of India in initiating that process.