From throwing sewage water inside the cars to making the drivers forcefully proclaim alliance, serious allegations have been raised against members of Self Employed Drivers Union (SEDU).

Section of Uber drivers in Kochi allege union forcing them to join strike
news Protest Thursday, September 19, 2019 - 18:49

“Chechi (sister), I cannot enter the airport. Uber is on a strike and the union has blocked us from entering the premises. They are capable of throwing stinky water in which fish were cleaned. It is a huge problem, I am going to cancel the ride,” an Uber driver told this reporter who had booked a car from the airport on Sunday.

Many Uber drivers in Kochi, under the banner of Self Employed Drivers Union (SEDU) have been on an indefinite strike since September 5 with the demand to ban Uber in Kochi. However, a section of drivers say that the protest is not spontaneous, there is no charter of demands and that those who stay away from the protest are being intimidated.

These drivers have come out alleging that they are being targeted and attacked by associations like SEDU for not stopping services and not being part of the protest. From throwing sewage water and fish waste water inside the cars to making the drivers forcefully proclaim alliance to the protest, serious allegations have been raised against members of SEDU, which is affiliated to the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC).

Niyas, one of the driver partners of Uber and a resident of Kochi, is the latest to face the wrath of the union for not participating in the strike.

“I had parked my car at Ernakulam Town Railway Station on Tuesday early morning when the incident happened. Few guys came in another car and two of them stepped out and asked me whether I am an Uber driver. When I said yes, they poured sewage water on me and the car, and got away,” says Niyas, who filed a complaint with the police, although an FIR is yet to be registered.

In one of the videos that had been doing the rounds on WhatsApp groups, a driver can be seen forced by a group of people to say that he is sorry for working when the strike is on. “I am sorry for riding Uber despite knowing there was a strike today. This won’t be repeated. Jai SEDU,” he can be heard saying.

“This is not the first time SEDU is acting against drivers who do not take part in the strike and continue to use Uber app. But now they have become dangerous and have started to attack us and our vehicles,” said Ashiq Abu, another driver partner of Uber in Kochi.

According to sources, there are about approximately 20,000 registered driver partners in Kochi. About 4,000 weekly active driver partners service in Kochi on a regular basis.

The drivers allege that many are staying away from taking up trips fearing consequences. “It will cost me at least Rs 3,000 to clean up the vehicle and it will take some days for it to dry. I will not be able to accept rides on these days. This intimidation has stopped many drivers from accepting Uber rides,” said Niyas. Rahman*, another driver said that many drivers don't join the strike or the union, as they have no benefits from it. "Only union leaders benefit," Rahman alleged.

Meanwhile, when TNM contacted officials of SEDU, they rejected the allegation that drivers were being attacked. At the same time, they also stated that services will be disrupted if drivers work for Uber during the strike days.

“Uber has anti-labour policies and they are not ready to change it. We are not stopping anyone from working altogether. We are demanding that Uber be banned in Kochi. The driver partners can work with other online cabs. Though we won’t use violence as a means in the strike, Uber services will be disrupted,” said Das G, Ernakulam district president of SEDU.

Normally, a union gives a charter of demands. In the Uber strike, SEDU's only demand is a ban on Uber citing 'anti-labour policies'. What these anti-labour policies are is not clear, and all that Das said was that Uber was sacking even those drivers 'who just had petty cases against them.'

Uber drivers like Niyas and Rahman also say that SEDU does not have any genuine demands. “If they were protesting with any genuine demands, we might have stayed with them. But this is an unnecessary strike. I have been working in Uber for the past one and half years and it is profitable for me. I get about Rs 3,000 per day. Why should I take part in the strike then?” asks Niyas.

Meanwhile, TNM has learnt that employees of Uber have written to Lokanath Behera, the Director General of Police and alleged that a SEDU member has spread canards about employees.

(*Name changed to protect identity)

With inputs from Shiba Kurian 

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