“Uber and Bolt are trying to hijack and impose a yellow union over the e-hailing industry” -Drivers’ union

Ejike Kanife
Fuel: ‘We have to park our cars’ Uber and Bolt drivers groan as price hit N617/Ltr
A protest by drivers to demand a review of the regulations by AMAC in Abuja in June. Credit: TheNewsGuru

As the battle for control of the Nigerian e-hailing space continues to heat up between e-hailing companies, Uber and Bolt on the one hand and the Amalgamated Union of App-based Transport Workers of Nigeria (AUATWON) on the other, the union has accused the two e-hailing giants of sponsoring internal elements to hijack the union.

The General Secretary of AUATWON, and the Vice President of the International Association of App-based Transport Workers (IAATW), Comrade Ayoade Ibrahim, in a chat with Technext, accused Uber and Bolt of trying to impose a ‘yellow union’ on the ride-hailing space.

A ‘yellow union’ is a worker’s union which, unlike regular unions that are formed and controlled by the employees to fight for their welfare, is instead controlled by the employers and normally used to suppress and control workers while giving people outside the organisation the impression that the employees have their say.

“What they are trying to do, they want to impose a yellow union on us. They want to return us to a system where anything goes. Where we succumb to anything they offer us and we can’t complain. They want us to continue suffering and toiling for them on their platforms.”

Ibrahim Ayoade, General Secretary of AUATWON
"Uber and Bolt are trying to hijack and impose a yellow union over the e-hailing industry" -Drivers' union
An Uber driver used to illustrate the story

As part of their ploy to impose a yellow union on Nigeria’s ride-hailing space, Comrade Ayoade claims the companies have already sponsored a division within the union. Working through one of the amalgamating associations that formed the AUATWON, the AUATWON Secretary General claims that Uber and Bolt are trying to hijack the union and seize control of its internal operations.

First, the companies succeeded in getting members of AUATWON’s excos from the said amalgamating associations to write a petition against issuing AUATWON’s certificate, probably in the hopes that the certificate would be issued to the petitioners instead.

He claims the companies then plan to change the union’s name, draft its constitution to suit their agenda and ensure they have a say in the union’s administration, and then place their representatives and puppets in the major controlling positions.

“I haven’t seen anywhere where employees would set up a union for employers to manage for them. But that is what Uber and Bolt practice globally. They always try to impose their rules over any country’s teams of engagement,” Comrade Ayoade said.

Making sense of the Uber, Bolt vs Drivers Union debacle

After more than seven years of struggle, Nigerian e-hailing drivers finally got a government-approved union, the AUATWON, under which they could fight for better working conditions and overall welfare. This union was formed through an amalgamation of 3 pre-existing independent drivers associations.

uber and bolt drivers get union
After 7 years of struggle, Uber Bolt drivers get a government-approved union in Nigeria

However, what the AUATWON got was an approval letter. While this bequeaths them the status of a trade union, it would take another 90 days for them to be gazetted and officially recorded into the constitution.

In those 90 days, the Minister of Labour is obliged to entertain any objections against the official registration of that union. Afterwards, the minister could only entertain objections or petitions from only union members. 

Sadly for Uber and Bolt, they didn’t submit their objections until after the 90 days had elapsed. According to Comrade Ayoade, as they could no longer petition and only union members could now object, these e-hailing giants decided to use one of the 3 amalgamating associations that formed the AUATWON as a front.

A few weeks ago, the union threatened to embark on a million-man protest if the two ride-hailing giants, Uber and Bolt, do not quit in their quest to revoke the union’s registration and license.

This reporter learned from a credible source that a member of the association used as a front for Uber and Bolt holds a very important position within the AUATWON. The ultimate question that requires answers now is: why would a highly-placed union member petition the government against his/her union if external forces aren’t indeed influencing it?

Uber and Bolt respond

When we contacted Uber for responses to the accusations, the company categorically denied the claims, insisting they were untrue and did not reflect the company’s position.

“These accusations are untrue and do not reflect our position as Uber. We support the freedom of drivers in Nigeria and the rest of the world to organise, including by forming and joining unions and associations. 

Uber Nigeria

Uber, however, insisted on its position that drivers are not employees but rather independent contractors and therefore are not qualified to be formed into a registered trade union which, according to the law, is only for employees.

It says that aside from a letter written to the Ministry in April to clarify that point, it hasn’t written or communicated to the Minister. “We have not written subsequently to the Registrar or the Minister of Labour and are not familiar with any of the points raised in the questions posed.”

For Bolt, while neither denying nor affirming the accusations, a spokesperson from the company said they had communicated their concerns to the Registrar of Trade Union of the Federal Ministry of Labour.

“In compliance with regulations, we have formally communicated our concerns to the Registrar of Trade Union. We will patiently await the final verdict from the Registrar before releasing our official statement

Bolt spokesperson

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