Ride-share drivers will spend Wednesday afternoon’s peak hours doing laps of Australian airport entrances and ignoring potential passengers as they join global strike action.
Drivers from Uber, along with workers from newer companies Ola and DiDi, will log off their ride-share apps as they step up their protest against high commission rates and what they see as inadequate pay.
The action means passengers won’t get picked up or will have to wait longer for rides.
The strike action, which is replicated in cities in the US, Britain, France, Brazil, Nigeria and Chile, comes on the eve of Uber going public with its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange.
Reports suggest that move could take the tech giant’s worth to more than $US90 billion ($128 billion). Rival Lyft went public on the stock market on March 29, with a share price of $72.
But while the company founders eye massive gains, drivers say they are being short-changed.
In Australia, the main action will be in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Protest participant Mandeep Singh, from Melbourne, said the impacts of putting financial pressure on driver-partners flowed down to passengers.
Mr Singh said drivers were cancelling trips more often because, without a minimum set fare, they saw no value in short trips or Uber Pool rides.
“If something is not done now, it’s quite possible that they’re going to see increase in the fares for the riders and increase in the commission as what they’re charging us as a driver,” the 33-year-old said.
“If they get a set fare, which we’re demanding on the strike, there’s going to be less cancellation and it’s going to be more productive … more consistent, definitely.”
Frustration among Uber drivers increased after the company decided to raise the amount of money it takes from driver profit.
HERE IS WHY UBER STRIKE IS NECESSARY pic.twitter.com/A02sh9xMX6
— Onlyjamievegas (@onlyjamievegas) May 7, 2019
Mr Singh said commission started about 21 per cent but Uber now took 28 cents from every dollar he earned – while he must still pay for navigation equipment, tolls, maintenance and petrol.
“It’s not fair for the new drivers. It’s not fair for the riders,” he said.
Adding to driver fears about longer-term job security, Uber has hinted that new technology, mainly for Uber Eats deliveries, could remove the need for people power in future.
“We also hope to add autonomous vehicles, delivery drones, and vertical takeoff and landing vehicles to our network, along with other future innovations,” it said.
“We are investing in our autonomous vehicle strategy, which may add to driver dissatisfaction over time, as it may reduce the need for drivers.”
Mr Singh said he drives six days a week, sometimes up to 10 hours, to make ends meet. He said ride-share drivers felt companies offered little for the commission they took.
“It’s just a call centre. What else are they providing? I haven’t seen anything … they’ve got nothing,” he said.
“If I am making 100 bucks, they are taking $30. If I had $120 more a week in my pocket, I could pay for my fuel, I could pay for my tolls, I can car for my car maintenance – it would make much difference for us.”
Before Wednesday’s strike, protesters mobilised in online driver forums and on city streets, passing out flyers to other drivers.
They want operators to increase the minimum fare to $7, Uber to lift the price of UberPool by 10 per cent, and to make the DiDi kilometre rate of $1.15 for the first seven kilometres.
In a statement, Uber highlighted the importance of its workers.
“Drivers are at the heart of our service – we can’t succeed without them – and thousands of people come into work at Uber every day focused on how to make their experience better, on and off the road,” a spokesperson said.
The company pointed to its release late last year of “improved” safety and insurance provisions for drivers, along with an app for workers to track their earnings and target the highest-grossing times to work.
At Melbourne Airport on Wednesday, drivers involved in the Uber protest will perform laps of the terminal and ride-share parking area, ignoring passengers.
“Please do not stop, just drive as normal. This is not illegal as we are not stopping,” protest organisers said in a note to drivers.
The strike is expected to run from 4pm to 6pm.