Sexual harassment
Is zero tolerance to sexual harassment a policy they follow in letter and/or in spirit? Their responses leave much to be desired.
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Ola is back in the news once again for their driver allegedly asking a woman passenger to strip and then molesting her in Bengaluru.

While it’s definitely not the first such incident involving a cab driver who works with an aggregator, either in Bengaluru or in other parts of the country – the question is, have companies learned from past experiences?

Almost each time there is a case of molestation or rape, cab aggregators like Ola and Uber come up with a standard response, expressing “regret”, reiterating their commitment to passenger safety and taking action against the offending driver.

But what have they done to prevent these incidents? Is zero tolerance to sexual harassment a policy they follow in letter and/or in spirit?

TNM put these questions to Ola and Uber. While an Ola spokesperson got back to us with more than a standard statement, Uber only provided a standard quote and refused to comment further or take more questions.  

1. No real trainings for drivers to prevent sexual harassment, as mandated by law

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Protection) Act, 2013, says that it is the duty of an employer to conduct regular workshops and awareness programmes to sensitise employees about the law. If the law were to be followed in letter and in spirit, taxi aggregators should have trained all their cab drivers – even if they don’t call them ‘employees.’

However, the extent of Ola’s ‘training and awareness’ for driver partners includes material shared over the internet. The Ola spokesperson said drivers are provided “online modules” which they must go through, because they do not have the wherewithal to “train them for 6-7 hours.”

“This module contains basic dos and don’ts and brief information on gender sensitivity as well. I’m not sure about the exact contents of the latter,” the spokesperson said.

How does the company know if their ‘online modules’ have been read by their driver partners? Apparently, by measuring how much time the driver has spent on the web page.

Uber meanwhile, chose to repeat their standard “zero tolerance” towards “abusive or inappropriate behaviour”. And when asked about what the drivers are sensitized on, an Uber spokesperson mentioned topics like ‘how to be a five-star driver’, ‘how to use the app better’, and other soft skills that enable them to offer riders a great experience during a trip’.

The spokesperson refused to comment or affirm if they have specific training for gender sensitivity.

2. Training only if a customer complains – but is it for prevention of sexual harassment?

The Ola spokesperson said that the company screens the aspiring drivers’ documents and does police verification before they’re brought on board. Drivers are also trained in defensive and lawful driving, and an eye checkup is done. But after this initial training, they’re only called in for further training if they receive negative feedback from customers.

"We also rely on customer feedback. And if a driver consistently gets unfavourable feedback, we recall them to undergo training again," the spokesperson said, although it was unclear whether this is in cases of sexual harassment or only for other complaints.

3. No mention of sexual harassment in ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ in terms and conditions for fleets

The terms and conditions for Ola’s partners/cab fleet has a ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ – except, nowhere does the document mention sexual harassment. In fact, the Zero Tolerance Policy talks about ‘Rude behaviour to female customers’ – at number 14, much after policies about ‘asking for tips’ (number 1), ‘having adequate change’ (number 8) and ‘vehicle branding’ (number 13).

When it comes to Uber, under point number 5 of the terms and conditions, the company more or less washes its hands off all responsibility and does not even mention sexual harassment.

Under ‘limitation of liability’, the terms say, “Uber shall not be liable for indirect, incidental, special, exemplary, punitive or consequential damages, including lost profits, lost data, personal injury or property damage related to, in connection with, or otherwise resulting from any use of the services, even if Uber has been advised of the possibility of such damages.” 

4. There are no real incentives for the drivers to attend a sexual harassment training

Ola admitted that there was a need to engage with the drivers in a training setup where messages of gender sensitivity and interaction can be put across more clearly. Ola says they’ve set up a Safety Council and intend to conduct one million ‘in person trainings of driver partners’ by 2020.

 When aggregators like Ola and Uber have a model where drivers are incentivised on the basis of number of trips, how do they plan to incentivise them to attend training and lose a day’s work?

Ola doesn’t have a solid plan for this. The ‘incentives’, according to the spokesperson, will be based on recognition and appreciation of drivers.

He added that currently, there are some provisions for covering their costs and meals for the duration of the training. It is unclear whether this is a standard practice.

Uber had no comments to offer in this regard, despite multiple queries.

5. Internal Complaints Committee as per law, but there is little clarity on whether drivers are covered

Under the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Protection) Act 2013, Ola does have a Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Committee. However, when TNM asked Ola whether this committee had the power to look at sexual harassment of passengers by drivers, the spokesperson was non-committal, and said the POSH existed for ‘employees’.

Ola and Uber don’t consider cab drivers who work through their app ‘employees’. According to the Ola website, their ‘driver partners’ are called ‘empowered entrepreneurs’, and not employees. And because drivers are not employees, Uber said that this made the sharing details on workplace sexual harassment irrelevant in this context.

It would therefore be safe to assume that the Internal Complaints Committees do not cover their drivers, thereby relieving the companies of responsibility for their behaviour.