Kenyan Uber Drivers Protest 35 Percent Fare Cut

Uber drivers protest CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SETH WENIG
Uber drivers protest CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SETH WENIG

Uber drivers in Kenya took to the streets on Tuesday, protesting the company’s steep fare cuts and policy of taking a high percentage of drivers’ earnings.

Kenyan Uber drivers went on strike August 2 after the company announced a 35 percent fare reduction last week. Drivers are also upset that Uber takes 25 percent of drivers’ earnings and asked for that rate to be lowered to 15 percent.

The protests took place in Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi, with drivers stopping traffic on one of the city’s busiest highway and holding up signs with messages like “we should not be Uber slaves in our country.” A group of drivers also waited outside Uber’s office in Nairobi, but protesters said no one came out to speak with them.

Uber released a statement to Quartz regarding the strike. “Uber has improved the driver experience with flexibility, increased economic opportunity and established communication channels,” the statement read. “Anyone can speak to us at any time. There are many ways driver-partners can let us know if they have any individual concerns.”

The strike comes after a group of drivers from Uber and one of its competitors, Little Cab, formed a union called the Kenya Digital Taxi Association. The group’s Facebook page promoted the strike and urged drivers to “say no to neo-colonialism.”

Uber’s expansion into Kenya has been anything but seamless. The company has faced threats of violence from taxi drivers scared of being put out of business. Additionally, Uber has had more competition in the region than it anticipated.

But it’s not just in Kenya that Uber has come under fire. Complaints regarding wages and the treatment of workers have also been levied against the company by workers in the U.S, who argue their earnings from Uber don’t cover daily expenses.

In February, hundreds of Uber drivers in New York City protested the company’s decision to cut fares by 15 percent. The loss in fare money forced Uber drivers to work longer hours to make ends meet, protest organizers complained. “People are driving their cars into the ground. They’re in subprime loans because of Uber,” one organizer said.

And according to a survey hosted by the online platform Coworker.org, 60 percent of Uber workers have thought about quitting Uber because of a reduced fare rate that led to less money for them. At the time of the survey, 18 percent of respondents said they already had stopped working for Uber for this reason.

Uber is also currently embroiled in a class action lawsuit in California over how it classifies its employees. Uber views its drivers not as employees, who would be entitled to perks such as reimbursement for vehicle expenses, but rather as independent contractors who are responsible for covering those costs on their own. However, the plaintiffs in the case have argued that since Uber controls wages and performance standards, drivers should be classified as employees.

Additionally, in response to cuts in fare, some Uber drivers have attempted to form bargaining organizations. In San Francisco, Uber drivers, and drivers from one of its main competitors, Lyft, are attempting to form a union represented by the Teamsters. And in New York City, Uber and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union reached an agreement that would create “an association of drivers” that would allow drivers to obtain some protections and benefits, but stops shy of unionization.

In Seattle, a battle over the right of Uber workers to unionize has raged over the past year, with the Seattle City Council passing a law in 2015 allowing drivers from companies like Uber and Lyft to unionize. But the future of that law is in flux after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sued Seattle over it.

The labor rights issues around Uber and other similar companies have spread worldwide, with anti-Uber protests gaining steam in European and South American countries, as well in the U.S and Africa. In Kenya, Uber drivers are just hoping to make enough to scrape by. Because as the group’s Facebook page said of drivers’ earnings versus their expenses, “We must be witch doctors to make this work.”

Evan Popp is an intern at ThinkProgress.