‘The threat of abuse and violence is still a daily part of the job’: the bereaved women fighting to protect gig economy drivers

THEn the evening of 17 2月 2021, Gabriel Bringye kissed his fiancee goodbye, and assured her he wouldn’t work late. Hours later, police were at the door of their east London home. He had been killed on the job, lured by a group of teenagers who booked his car on the Bolt cab ride app in order to rob him.

Known as a “trap job”, the group used a stolen phone to book the journey that ended with the 37-year-old driver’s death. Despite his vehicle remaining stationary for nearly six hours while booked on a job, Bolt had no automated system in place to raise the alarm; Gabriel was found by a passerby. 彼は現場で亡くなりました.

More than a year since his death, Gabriel’s sister Renata Bringye and his fiancee, Mara Fazecas, are leading the fight to promote driver safety and prevent more attacks on drivers. In a campaign with the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), Renata, who also works as a private hire driver, and Fazecas, a hotel cleaning supervisor, are demanding Bolt implements better safety measures. They also want the multibillion dollar company to give its drivers worker status, as Uber was forced to do last year.

Renata, 35, remembers her older brother as a family man: “He never had a problem with anyone. If anybody needed something, he was the first who jumped to help.” The Romanian national, who had been working as a driver for five years at the time of his death, lived with his fiancee, his sister and her nine-year-old son in Walthamstow, after moving to London from Spain more than a decade ago. After working in construction, Gabriel became a private-hire driver, attracted by the flexibility it offered. He enjoyed driving, and choosing his own hours meant he could help his sister take care of her son.

Her brother’s death left Renata shaken, and she deleted the Bolt app from her phone. “I don’t want it to happen to me as well, because I have my little son to bring up," 彼女が言います. Gabriel’s killers, 高齢者 18 そして 19, were found guilty of manslaughter at the Old Bailey in mid-March, とともに prosecution arguing the killing had been a consequence of a plan to rob a driver. Since Gabriel’s death, other Bolt drivers have been brutally attacked and robbed. Just weeks after the incident, Muhammad Alam was punched in the face and had his car stolen at knifepoint in east London; Garad Hussein was left unable to walk and needing multiple operations after an attack in Birmingham last December.

Bolt introduced welfare checks on static vehicles after Gabriel’s killing, a change that IWGB president Alex Marshall credits to the pressure of their campaigning: if a car remains stationary for an unexplained reason, the company’s safety team will contact the driver and passenger, and then the police if neither responds. But Gabriel and Fazecas are pushing for more comprehensive protections. Alongside customer photo requirements, vehicle partitions and CCTV in the vehicle, they are calling for the app to introduce password protection. To 37-year-old Fazecas, this is critical, as Gabriel was ambushed by a group who booked the trip on a stolen phone. “If they had a login password, so they couldn’t make a trap trip, Gabriel would still be alive today.”

The campaign has been pushing for Bolt to implement better protection measures for drivers by writing letters that outline their demands, protesting outside the company headquarters and holding a vigil and rally on the anniversary of Gabriel’s death. It was at this last event that the campaign was officially launched, with Nader Awaad, chair of the IWGB’s United Private Hire Drivers branch saying: “Every driver deserves to feel safe in their place of work, but a year since Gabriel’s tragic [殺害] the threat of abuse, harassment and violence is still a daily part of the job.”

While the campaign’s demands are primarily directed at Bolt, Marshall says he is “hoping for a domino effect” for workers throughout the gig economy. Worker status is integral to driver safety, 彼は主張する: the precarity of the gig economy often pushes drivers into taking on jobs they may feel uneasy about due to reasons such as a customer having a low rating or feeling unsafe working at night. Employment rights allow drivers to “make basic risk assessments”, 彼は言い​​ます: “When you’re constantly being underpaid, you’re constantly working to try and hit targets … It might get to a point where you think, ‘I don’t really like the look of this job, I haven’t made enough today, so I probably should take this job just to make a few more quid.’”

Bolt says that it has increased the rates it charges to passengers and, as such, Bolt drivers are now making 22% more per mile than they were making in January 2020.

Renata was all too familiar with making difficult decisions about which jobs to take, particularly as a female driver – and she says Bolt penalised her for turning down jobs. She claims she was repeatedly suspended from the app after her acceptance rate slipped below the company’s minimum threshold, due to rejecting passengers with low ratings – a story similar to that of Andrei Donisa, who brought a case in 2020 over the issue. Bolt says it has since scrapped its acceptance rate policy. Renata points out another imbalance: while drivers must maintain a minimum rating of 4.0 to work for the app, there appears to be no equivalent requirement for passengers.

As well as an absence of partition barriers, there are other factors that may place gig economy drivers at higher risk of attacks than black cab drivers, Marshall argues. ロンドンで, 約 90% of black cab drivers are white British while 94% of private hire drivers are BAME, and he says racism can play a role in sparking assaults against some immigrant drivers: “If English isn’t your first language, that’s a point of contention for some passengers.” He also believes the perception of how minicab drivers are treated by the firms they work for affects their treatment by the public. “Companies hire and fire them at the click of a button, they have zero responsibility if a violent incident happens – people just think: ‘I can treat these guys as I want, because what’s going to happen?’” He compares this to how black cab drivers are often perceived: “They’re part of London’s fibre, they’re a tourist attraction, they’re on postcards.”

After Gabriel’s death, his family received a bouquet of flowers from Bolt and a voicemail message from a company representative; they are upset that the company subsequently claimed in press statements to have been supporting them.

ガレス・テイラー, regional manager for the UK and Ireland at Bolt, 前記: “Bolt condemns violence of any form directed towards private-hire drivers, who we believe have the right to earn a living without risk of harm, 脅迫, coercion, or fear of death or injury. The death of Gabriel Bringye was a shocking and senseless tragedy. Our subsequent response and communication with his family was not conducted to the standard that is expected and we are truly sorry.” Taylor said he intended to meet with Gabriel’s family within the next few weeks to convey his condolences and discuss their campaign’s demands.

In addition to checks on static vehicles, Taylor said Bolt has also set up a round-the-clock support line and “significantly” increased its safety team, who handle safety related incidents, including conducting welfare checks. Taylor said the safety team is also working to ban passengers with consistently poor feedback, and is implementing a system preventing drivers and passengers who have previously rated each other poorly from being reconnected. “We are dedicated to making our platform as safe as possible for drivers and passengers and we have a range of safety improvements planned over the coming year," 彼は言った.

In a gesture of solidarity with the family, several drivers accompanied the family to Kent when they took Gabriel’s body home to Romania last year via the Channel. But Fazecas has been unable to feel settled anywhere since her partner’s death. “I always felt at home with him. I realised after he died, home is not a place – it’s a feeling you have with the person you love.

“Gabriel was young, he was full of dreams. We wanted to start a family. I want to do this [運動] in memory of Gabriel – I don’t want his life to go away and nothing to change.”