The Nigerian app drivers union has finally received its trade union certificate from the Nigerian Ministry of Labour. The certificate empowers the organization to operate as a trade union, looking out for the welfare of e-hailing drivers in the country.
Per the new certificate, the union’s name is no longer the Amalgamated Union of App-based Transport Workers of Nigeria (AUATWON) but the Amalgamated Union of App-based Transporters of Nigeria (AUATON).
This was confirmed to Technext by AUATON General Secretary Comrade Ibrahim Ayoade. Ayoade, who congratulated app-based workers in the country, noted that the struggle to become a government-recognized trade union began way back in 2016, and he was pleased to see all their efforts crowned with success.
“The victory is for all of us and we appreciate our partners worldwide. Now we have the legal backing but the work has only just begun. We will now focus on fighting for our members across the country.”
Regarding the name change, Comrade Ayoade explained that the previous name is broader and covers a wider range of workers than the new one, which is more specific and just for transporters.
Comrade Ayoade said the issuance of its certificate cements AUATON’s place as truly the first app workers union in Africa.
AUATON’s journey towards union certification
The struggle to unionize app-based drivers started in 2016 when Uber slashed the income of drivers to 40% without consulting them or even informing them about it. An association, then known as the National Union of Professional App-based Transport Workers (NUPA-BTW) fought to reverse that decision.
The following year, 2017, the NUPA-BTW applied to become a government-approved trade union. This started a long, tumultuous process spanning the next five years. Very little attention was given to its application because of the relative novelty of the e-hailing sector and because it wasn’t considered such an important sector with a significant number of workers.
But things began to change in 2021 when a new registrar was appointed to the Trade Union Services and Industrial Relations Department of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment. During this time, the AUATON had affiliated itself with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), and together they gained government approval in January 2023.
The AUATON is an amalgamation of three previously existing organisations coming together into one block to fight for the betterment of Nigerian app-based drivers. The three amalgamating blocs include the National Union of Professional App-based Transport Workers (NUPA-BTW), the Professional E-hailing Drivers and Private Owners Association of Nigeria (PEDPAN) and the National Coalition of Ride-Sharing Partners (NACORP).
This latest development comes after months of tussle between the AUATON and e-hailing companies in the country, notably Uber and Bolt. Following the government approval in January, the companies opposed the formation of the union, arguing that the drivers are not their workers but rather independent partners. Therefore they don’t have a right to form a workers union.
On the other hand, the AUATON accused the hailing companies of trying to impose a yellow union on the industry. This is a situation whereby they control the union from the inside while giving the impression that it is completely independent of the employers.
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.”AUATWON General-Secretary, Ayoade Ibrahim
Uber quickly responded, describing the accusations as untrue as it supports drivers’ freedom.
“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,” the company said in a mail to Technext.
However, following a parley between the AUATON and representatives of the ride-hailing companies, organised by the Federal Ministry of Labour in June, the AUATON appeared to clear the final hurdle in its path towards certification as the app companies appeared to have finally agreed to recognise it.
The AUATON has successfully led Nigerian e-hailing drivers to a series of protests. Following the fuel subsidy removal and the attendant fuel price hike, it led drivers around the country to a 10-day boycott of hailing apps like Uber and Bolt in protest of their refusal to place a commensurate increase in fares.
In August, the AUATON, an affiliate of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), joined the congress on a mass nationwide demonstration to protest against the unbearable hardship Nigerians were facing under the new government of Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Get the best of Africa’s daily tech to your inbox – first thing every morning.
Join the community now!