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Covid-19: Grab manages driver support package backlash with incentive smokescreen

By February 24, 2020Current

TL;DR – Grab probably thinks every driver is an idiot. OOPS.

With the novel coronavirus (aka COVID-19) still looming over us, many industries have taken a hit. One of these industries is the point-to-point transport industry or better known as Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) industry.

“How come leh?” 

Simply because people are avoiding crowded places and staying in. Not just that, many companies have also implemented work from home arrangement for half their teams. Many also cut down on social gathering after work.

“Wah. Then how like that?”

To assist the Taxi and PHV drivers, the government, NTUC, and various operators have come together and put a support package together to help them tide over this difficult time.

“Okay mah. Means everyone should be happy right?”

Pretty much true until Grab sent out a message on Thursday evening to announce the additional details of the support package.

To better understand the situation, we will have to go back to where the story began.

13 February 2020 – Launch of Point-to-point support package (PPSP)

Image via

“So on 13 February they announced this PPSP thing. Actually I also don’t really care. A few of us (drivers) already expected that it is not going to be easy to take money out of Grab just like that. We know confirm got a lot of criteria, but just wait and see how lor.” – Mr Lim*, 30s, PHV Driver.

According to an article published in The Straits Times:

Main taxi hirers will automatically receive $20 in their hiring account each day, without needing to make any application.

Active private-hire drivers who have completed at least 200 trips a month from October to December 2019 will also be eligible for the package.

Those who do not qualify for this relief can tap a $2.7 million fund set up by the Government and National Trades Union Congress.

21 February 2020 (evening) – Grab announces additional details along with Support Package

Image is a screenshot we received via a reader who is a driver on Grab platform.

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The news was announced at around 6pm in the evening and all hell broke loose amongst the Grab drivers.

What is this Super Steady Streak?

Screenshots via Grab

“Okay, I get the system. So why are they so angry?”

 

“155/week is equivalent to $620/mth only leh… my streak every mth is more than this amount… k**. so it’s like a paycut instead of help lor.” – John*, PHV Driver.

Long story short, some drivers have expressed their unhappiness in 1 short sentence,

“Like that govt help us but they (Grab) chut such pattern, I rather don’t get help and just keep things the same.”

In a nutshell, Grab might be the one pulling a fast one by reducing drivers’ earning, but as usual, the disgruntled will transfer their unhappiness to the government.

22 February 2020 (Morning) – National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA) calls for meeting with Grab 

“I am not sure who sent the message. But I got a message saying that drivers should gather and talk about it. I did not go down but I heard some drivers went down and the IRO (Industrial Relationship Officer) was there to listen to feedback. ” Mr Tan, 40s, PHV Driver.

In a statement posted on NPHVA’s Facebook post, NPHVA confirmed it received feedback from their drivers and has initiated a meeting. Grab has agreed to extend the Super Steady Streak scheme until May 2020 after the meeting.

On the same Facebook page,  a post which was posted the night before at around 8 pm was spotted. This clearly shows that the drivers’ concerns were already heard almost immediately heard within hours of the announcement. Since then, the post itself has gotten almost 200 likes, over 400 comments, and over 100 shares.

“What is this NPHVA ah?”

As the name itself suggests, NPHVA is an association. Here’s the official introduction from their Facebook page,

The National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA) represents the collective interests of private hire drivers providing point-to-point services, including traditional private limousines, ride-sharing applications, and other chauffeured services. NPHVA seeks to safeguard the welfare and livelihood of private hire vehicle drivers, and works with government authorities and other industry partners to address driving-related issues and concerns. NPHVA was officially registered with the Registry of Societies on 3 May 2016, by its Pro-tem Committee with support from the NTUC Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit.

In laymen’s term – A  (sorta) union that gets support from NTUC. However, they are an association but not union because the workers in this industry are freelancers and not able to be represented fully by a union.

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While it might come as a surprise for many out there who are not familiar with unions, that unions really did help the workers within a very short turn around time.

“Eh bro, ya, good NPHVA helped but Grab is still removing the scheme and just delaying what.” Mr Lim

 

While that is widespread feedback being observed on various Facebook pages and groups, I guess with the additional 3 months’ lead time , the drivers are given time to react and make certain choices such as whether to switch over to another private hire vehicles platform or move on to another career. Not the best outcome the drivers are probably looking at but at least it is something.

Without a doubt, this case itself has once again proven that gigs on new tech platforms may be lucrative at first, but not all  are sustainable since these tech startups too need to make commercial sense. While it might be offering decent pay for you, you may not be able to make a long-term career out of it. The question of sustainability of the business model has always been around.

As much as government and union can fight for certain things, practically there may be no way of stopping these startups and platforms from killing their business and services overnight. If that is going to happen, what is going to happen to all the drivers? Can they revert to their previous jobs? Can they find new jobs? Can the taxi companies take everyone in? Or is it a case of one player exiting and another takes over? Will the last option even exist if everyone knows that the business is not a money-making one?

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Some might think that it is not wrong for the company to do so. It is a free market after all. They have the right to do whatever they want while every worker has the right to choose their jobs too. However, doing it when times are bad and when the government just handed out money to help out the workers does not seem to be the most ethical thing to do. Why would anyone want to work with an employer that does not take care of their workers?

That is probably why Grab has always been calling them partners instead of staff or worker. Some of us may think “partners” mean both sides are of equal status and all that. But think in the case of Grab versus the Grab drivers. Partners of equal status and bargaining power? Really? Perhaps Grab had meant “partner” as a more euphemistic way of saying “You ain’t my employee, so your welfare ain’t my problem.”

“If you are not happy just quit lor.” Thomas, PHV Driver. 

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

 

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Jake Koh

Author Jake Koh

Recovering sushi addict, I'm a man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery.

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