UAE Labour Ministry warns ride-hailing companies against violating laws

UAE Labour Ministry warns ride-hailing companies against violating laws
(Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)
Published: 16 June 2019 - 9:40 a.m.
By: Logistics Middle East Staff

Uber and Careem drivers are regularly working longer hours than UAE labour law allows, but the ride-hailing apps are working to find a solution to the problem, reports Gulf News.

Living away from their families and without the disposable income for a social life, drivers often choose to work perilously long days. According to Gulf News, many say they are saddled with debt, with hopes of one day saving enough money to return home.

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This problem is endemic to both Uber and Careem, according to interviews with more than a dozen current drivers, UAE employment lawyers and road safety experts.

The roots of the problem are a system of commission-based contracts that fuel longer working hours, a lack of regulatory oversight, and companies eager to avoid responsibility altogether.

Taken together, they argue, these factors create a permissive environment for drivers to work as many hours as they want, with little concern for their own wellbeing, or that of their passengers and fellow drivers.

“Businesses that can impact public safety have a particular duty of care to ensure that their workers are complying with the law,” said Omar Al Nuaimi, the UAE’s assistant under-secretary of labour, in a statement to Gulf News. “[They] should not be offering incentives to encourage significant overwork.”

He warned that the government “will investigate any violations that are brought to our attention.”

The law on working hours in the UAE states that employees are allowed to work eight hours a day, or 48 hours a week.

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Uber and Careem claim to have little influence over how many hours individuals worked when contacted by Gulf News, given that neither company actually employs any drivers and declined to provide any details on the number of accidents that had involved drivers working on their platforms.

In a statement, Uber said the responsibility for driver welfare lied squarely with limousine businesses, who often own hundreds of vehicles and employ hundreds of drivers and use the Uber and Careem apps to find business.

“Drivers who use the Uber app in the UAE are employed by limousine companies that have full visibility on working hours and bear responsibility for ensuring drivers are operating lawfully,” a spokesperson for Uber said.

A number of prominent fleet operators - who employ as many as 500 drivers each - declined to speak to Gulf News as well.

These faceless companies typically hire drivers with the promise of an assured salary, only to later introduce steep commission targets that incentivize extremely long hours, according to one Dubai-based employment lawyer familiar with the industry.

This assurance of a salary is often given simply to appease the labour ministry who will only grant a visa to someone who can show they are guaranteed to earn a certain level of income, the lawyer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect his professional relationships.

Once the visa has been granted, it is not uncommon for the employer to deviate from this arrangement, entering in to a second, more informal contract between the company and the driver. It may be more difficult for the driver to assert their rights in this instance, the lawyer said.

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While legal liability may rest with the limousine companies, the reputational risk sits firmly with Uber and Careem, says Thomas Edelmann, the founder of Road Safety UAE, an advocacy group.

Edelmann said a fatal accident involving a Careem or Uber driver and passenger would reflect badly on the brand, not the private car company. “Reputationally it will damage Uber or Careem, not the limousine company.”

The brand visibility of the two ride-hailing businesses is such that few people are aware that neither actually employ any of their own drivers in the UAE.

This ambiguous chain of responsibility, and lack of oversight by a state regulator, has led to a vacuum in which driver’s are able work as many hours as they want, despite the dangers.

In an effort to combat this issue, Uber introduced a feature last year that restricted drivers from working more than 12 hours on its platform. The company at the time said it was attempting to reduce the number of fatigue-related accidents involving Uber drivers.

But experts say this feature, while a positive step in the right direction, is insufficient.

The limit of 12 hours only accounts for time spent on a job, or driving passengers to their destination. In reality, drivers say they usually spend at least another four hours travelling through the city looking for those passengers - time which isn’t included in Uber’s limit.

Road safety experts also point out that Uber’s feature is made redundant by the fact that drivers could complete their 12 hours of paid driving time on Uber, and simply switch over to Careem, where they would be able to continue working.

Careem, the Dubai-headquartered company which was acquired by Uber for $3.1 billion in March, said it was working to implement a similar system to the one used by Uber, allowing it to log drivers out of its app after they had completed 12 hours of paid driving.

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