Pushed to penury due to the subdued commuter movement in urban centres amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, app-based drivers across Telangana on Saturday abstained from riding to register their protest against the cab aggregators.
The protest was held under the aegis of Telangana State Taxi and Drivers Joint Action Committee--an umbrella body comprising of 20 gig and platform workers’ unions. The protesters also commemorated the International Labour Day, commonly known as May Day, which is celebrated every year on May 1.
“Nearly 25,000 drivers across Telangana today boycotted the ride apps – either by not logging in or switching off their phones altogether,” said Shaik Salauddin, chairman of the joint action committee. Token protests were staged in other parts of the country under the banner of Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers (IFAT), he added.
The protesting drivers were those who are associated with major ride-hailing aggregators in the country namely, Ola and Uber.
According to Salauddin, Saturday’s protest was observed mainly because the demands raised by the joint committee remained unmet despite the continued surge in Covid-19 cases, which jeopardised the livelihoods of app-based drivers. “The second wave has resulted in massive decrease in number of rides due to which monthly income of the drivers has taken a hit. At the same time, with no adequate protection, these workers are also putting themselves at a risk of getting infected every day,” he said.
Over 400 app-based drivers in Telangana have so far tested positive for the Covid-19 infection, Salauddin alleged. Moreover, he pegged the number of infected app-based delivery personnels at 281 till Saturday.
However, there is no complete restriction on movements in the form of a lockdown in Telangana as of yet. This is unlike Delhi, Maharashtra, and Karnataka among others where a complete shut down has been announced in view of rising Covid-19 cases that have put additional strain on the already dilapidated healthcare infrastructure.
On Friday, the K. Chandrashekar Rao–led government decided to extend the statewide night curfew for another seven days till May 8. The decision came on a day when the state reported 7,646 fresh cases of Covid-19 and 53 casualties due to the same.
The joint action committee of app-based drivers sent a letter earlier this week to Hyderabad offices of both Ola and Uber. The committee had demanded that the aggregators among others should fix the fare rate per kilometre as per the government’s guidelines, provide effective personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to all drivers and provide a fixed daily compensation of Rs 1,175 to drivers who have contracted Covid-19 infection.
Additionally, the umbrella body demanded a death compensation of Rs 25 lakh to the kin of drivers who would succumb to Covid-19, along with a health and accident insurance for all the drivers.
The app-based drivers’ community “who have already been reeling under the impacts of rising fuel prices, are now experiencing devastating impacts due to the second wave of Covid-19,” the committee reasoned in the letter.
Salauddin on Saturday claimed that the umbrella body will continue to press for these demands, which are “relevant” to app-based drivers across the country.
Meanwhile, a twitter campaign under the hashtag “DriverLifeMatters” was initiated by IFAT on the occasion of May Day. As part of it, the federation demanded the governments – Centre and state – to include the “passenger transport operators” and other workers in the transportation sector in the priority list of receiving an early jab of Covid-19 vaccine.