Can drivers working for app-based taxi companies like Ola and Uber be considered as their employees? This was a question raised today before the Delhi High Court which sought to know the Centre’s stand on the issue. Apart from the central government, Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva also issued notice to the Delhi government, Uber and ANI Technologies, which provides cab services under the name of Ola, and sought their responses by August 10 on the issue raised by a drivers’ union.
The Delhi Commercial Driver Union, which claims to represent around 1.5 lakh drivers operating in the national capital region, has alleged that the two companies were not treating them as employees and instead “exploiting” them.
It has claimed in its plea that the drivers were being exploited with regard to their pay and service conditions and were also being denied benefits like compensation in case of accidents or deaths while on duty, under the labour laws.
The Delhi government, during the hearing, told the court that the issue raised was either an industrial dispute or a policy decision to be taken by the administration.
It said no representation has been made to it by the drivers highlighting their grievances.
The central government, on the other hand, said a Bill amending the Motor Vehicles Act for regulating companies like Ola and Uber has been passed by the Lok Sabha.
However, the petitioner, represented by advocates Akash Vajpai and Shoumendu Mukherji, contended that the problems faced by the drivers were not covered by the proposed legislation.
The union has contended that the drivers work under “deplorable working and pay conditions”.
It has sought the setting up of a committee to look into their grievances and give appropriate recommendations to improve their conditions and pay.
It has also sought the grant of a fixed amount as compensation to the drivers, or their next of kin, who are injured or killed due to road accidents while employed with Ola and Uber.
In support of their claim that they were employees of the companies, the drivers union has contended that Ola and Uber select a driver for a customer on their sole discretion and therefore, there is no element of freedom and independent decision making on the part of the driver.
The union is also opposed to the change in the fares on a daily basis allegedly on the “whims” of the two companies and without any prior notice to the drivers.
It has said that the drivers are demanding a revision in the minimum fares and restoring bonuses that were offered in the initial days. They also said that the issue of whether these drivers are employees has been decided in their favour in the USA and the UK.
With regard to the recent protests by some taxi drivers’ unions against the fare system of Uber and Ola, the petitioner union has said that such agitations were held worldwide and not just in India.