Appeal of profits has turned to fear of trade unions for Ola, Uber drivers in Kerala

“Earlier Ola had its company name pasted on the cars. But we were forced to remove it because we are scared"
Appeal of profits has turned to fear of trade unions for Ola, Uber drivers in Kerala
Appeal of profits has turned to fear of trade unions for Ola, Uber drivers in Kerala
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On Tuesday, when Tinu Cherian Abraham’s elderly parents attempted to take an Ola cab from Thiruvananthapuram airport, local taxi drivers ganged up around the car and threatened them and the driver.

Describing the ordeal his parents and brother went through, Abraham said in a post on Facebook that the taxi drivers threatened to damage the Ola driver’s vehicle, “scaring him away”. “They said this is their airport and won't allow any Ola or 'ulla' here and chased him away. Threatened & abused my family as well.”

Even though they tried to take the same Ola cab from outside the airport, they found to their dismay that the taxi driver group had followed them there too. “Finally my family had to walk out of the airport and pick an auto from outside to reach home... Sad state of goondaism & trade unionism in Kerala,” Abraham said.

Such incidents are unfortunately, all too common in Kerala’s cities where taxi aggregators have become popular with the public. Uber was launched in Kerala in November 2014, and Ola in early 2015.

For the drivers however, the initial appeal of the lucrativeness was soon replaced by fear, for their safety and of damage to the vehicles. Combined with the frequently changing incentives packages from the company, the looming threat of assault by other taxi or autorickshaw drivers has forced many to quit.

Those who continue with taxi aggregator services such as Uber and Ola, say they don’t like to advertise their work.

“Earlier Ola had its company name pasted on the cars. But we were forced remove it because we are scared. They attack in groups,” says A Navas, joint secretary of the All Kerala Online Taxi Drivers union, which was formed in November 2015. “We had no other option. We were tired of verbal attacks and physical assaults from them,” he added. The association now claims to have around 2,500 members in both Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.

The ‘fights’ between online taxi services and taxi drivers’ trade unions mainly occur in areas close to railway stations, airports, jetties and ship-boarding points of Kochi city.

Anoop, who was once with taxi driver trade unions, says he switched over to the aggregators as it paid better. “We all work for livelihood, so I switched to it,” he says. Today however, he too feels threatened. “I was attacked many times by auto rickshaw drivers near railway stations, because our fares are cheaper than theirs. If it helps the public then what is wrong with it,” Anoop asks.

There were allegations that drivers with Ola and Uber had no licenses. “They used that as a reason to attack us. Some of us did not have a taxi permit in the beginning but later it was all fixed,” Navas said.

However, unable to withstand intimidation and assault, Anoop says that many of his friends gave up. As the number of drivers reduced, the company too started cutting down on incentives. Now they have gone on strikes to get the company to reinstate the incentives.

Not just that, drivers feel abandoned by the companies they work for. “If there is an issue, or if we get assaulted, we have to approach the police by ourselves. There is no support from the firm,” Navas said.

CPI (M)’s counter taxi app

During this time, the Ernakulam district committee of the CPI(M) has come up with its own app for aggregating taxis and autos.

“By February 16 the app will start functioning. This is our defence against a corporate invasion. It is their technique to establish a market. Once that happens, prices will rise, and then it will be more costly than conventional taxis,” former Rajya Sabha member and Ernakulam district secretary P Rajeev told The News Minute.

Rajeev claimed that most drivers with taxi aggregators did not have a licence. “Most of them don’t have license. CPI(M) is opposing this. We did not assault them, but they should function legally. In our venture we will include only those who have proper legal permit,” he said.

CPI (M) Loksabha member MB Rajesh said: “We will not allow a private capitalist to invade the market. Best way to defend it was to bring a parallel structure, like our cooperative ventures. And this new app will be successful in defending corporate invasion,” Rajesh told TNM.

However, the online taxi drivers association wholeheartedly welcomed the new application from CPI(M).

“We are happy that they bring a new firm, because the menace from them will be reduced after that. And once if we want to quit from Uber we can also join them. We don’t have any rivalry to conventional system,” Navas said.

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