News National Underpaid rideshare drivers concerned about assaults and bogus complaints, TWU survey finds

Underpaid rideshare drivers concerned about assaults and bogus complaints, TWU survey finds

Rideshare drivers say they are victims of "false complaints", and getting deactivated without a right of reply. Photo: ABC News
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A typical driver working for Uber, Ola and other rideshare companies is worried about personal safety, passengers making fake complaints about them, and getting underpaid.

Those were the results from a survey conducted on 1100 rideshare drivers by the Transport Workers Union.

Some of the key findings were that:

  • Half the drivers work full-time;
  • On average, they earn $16 per hour (before costs like fuel, insurance and car maintenance);
  • A majority of them work full-time (67 per cent) and earn less than the average weekly wage ($1586);
  • Many are motivated to drive because “they have debts to pay” (31 per cent); and
  • The pay is “not good enough to save for super or leave” (62 per cent).

Almost two-thirds of drivers said they were victims of arbitrary “deactivation” – essentially being locked out of the app and prevented from working due to customers making false complaints.

These drivers are also not given a right of reply to address any allegations.

Furthermore, the TWU said it received 969 reports of drivers being harassed and/or assaulted.

A large number of them had “received threats” (37 per cent), and either been the victims of physical assault (10 per cent) or sexual assault (6 per cent).

Nearly all of them drove for Uber (97 per cent), given it is the dominant player in the rideshare industry.

Out of the 1100 drivers surveyed, they also worked for Ola (46 per cent), Taxify (26 per cent), DiDi (22 per cent) and other companies (15 per cent).

Violent customers part of the job

Rideshare driver Raul was punched in the face by an aggressive passenger.

Raul, 34, was of one of the full-time drivers surveyed and recently took time off work to recover from an assault – the perpetrator being one of his passengers.

He has worked as a rideshare driver in Melbourne for the past three years, but requested the ABC not to reveal the companies’ names for fear of “deactivation”.

Raul had almost arrived at the agreed pick-up destination on a Saturday night in June when he noticed three “aggressive-looking” men signalling at him at a normally busy intersection.

One of them was the passenger who had requested the trip through a mobile rideshare app.

When he drove closer, they shouted at him to pull over at the intersection, but Raul refused because it was dangerous.

After a brief argument, Raul pressed “cancel” on his phone to end the trip – before it even started.

As he drove away, one of the aggressive passengers managed to punch Raul in the eye – through the open driver’s window – then kick the back of his car.

Rideshare services, such as Uber in Kiev, have changed the world but not the safety and working conditions of drivers. Photo: Getty

Unfortunately for Raul, he drove only half a block away before deciding to step out of his vehicle.

“I wanted to see whether he had done any damage to my car when he kicked it,” Raul told the ABC.

The three men had been chasing after Raul in the meantime. One of them struck him in the mouth, causing the driver’s lip to split open, before he collapsed on the pavement.

Raul believes he was unconscious for a couple of minutes, during which two taxi drivers pulled over and intervened – preventing the assault from escalating further.

The driver was subsequently hospitalised for nine days because of “extreme” pain in his left eye that left him with “double vision”.

However, he did not lodge a complaint to the company about the violent passenger.

When asked why, Raul said that he had cancelled the trip so it did not appear in the “trip history” of his app.

Therefore, he had no records of who to complain about.

At the mercy of customers

But the bigger problem, according to Raul, is that: “The customer is always right, even when they’re not … and the driver will always gets penalised if there’s a dispute.”

Like many drivers, Raul is worried that passengers have the power to give “bad ratings” for “any reason whatsoever, no matter how unreasonable” – and that the company never takes the driver’s side.

One example he gave was when his passenger asked him to stop at McDonald’s during a trip.

Raul told the passenger he would not take a detour because the company strictly pays him a fixed fee, irrespective of how long the trip takes.

“Then I’ll report you for dangerous driving, and give you a one-star rating,” the passenger fired back.

Although Raul has been awarded a high rating (4.9 stars) by thousands of customers, he has been deactivated twice without warning.

The first time it happened Raul was locked out of his rideshare app, and not permitted to take any new bookings because a passenger had complained about him.

Raul then drove to the company’s headquarters to find out what he had allegedly done.

“The first time it happened, some young kid from Hawthorn made a bogus complaint that ‘the driver never told him about the fare’,” Raul said.

“That’s ridiculous because the app doesn’t even tell me what the fare is until I’ve dropped off the passenger.

“I explained that to the company and thankfully they understood, so I was re-activated within 24 hours.”

The second time Raul was deactivated, he was prevented from working for four days – and cut off from earning an income (from that rideshare app) during the time.

When Raul visited the company headquarters again to find out why they had cut him off, he was shocked to discover the reason.

“They told me it had to do with the complaint I made about a passenger who vomited in the back seat of my car,” he said.

“I was trying to claim a $100 cleaning fee from him, but the company decided to deactivate my account to investigate whether the allegations were true or not.

“That’s very unfair because they basically decided I did something wrong, before they even worked out what the truth was.”

Industry response

“These survey results are shocking and disturbing,” TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said.

“They reveal the true face of the on-demand economy where Uber, Ola, Taxify and DiDi are ripping drivers off and forcing them to struggle.

“They are offered no support when they face sexual or physical assault and must choose between taking time off work to recover or going back to work the next day in order to get paid.”

Uber’s spokesperson told the ABC: “Violence is not tolerated and is in clear violation of our Community Guidelines.

“Uber is committed to the safety of drivers-partners and we continue to work on promoting the safe use of our app and tackling tough issues with safety experts and leading organisations in Australia.”

Ola, Taxify and DiDi were also contacted for comment.