Delays in formalising an amalgamated drivers union focused on one technicality, so the drivers union has chosen pragmatism as a way forward. 

In January 2023, Nigeria’s ride-hailing drivers merged all existing unions and groups into one body: the Amalgamated Union of App-Based Transport Workers Of Nigeria (AUATWON). It was a critical moment for the drivers whose unionisation efforts date back seven years. As part of formalising the new union, AUATWON applied to be registered with Nigeria’s Ministry of Labour. While the application was supposed to be straightforward, a part of the process allows the ministry to hear objections to a union’s registration. 

When the union’s application notice was published, Uber and Bolt reportedly objected. Both companies argued that drivers cannot form trade unions because they are independent contractors, not employees. This distinction in how drivers are classified is a legal question that Uber has fought and lost in some jurisdictions. 

See also: Are Uber and Bolt drivers employees or independent contractors?

In reaction to those concerns, the drivers union appears to have made a compromise. The ride-hailing drivers have now changed their name to the Amalgamated Union of App-based Transporters of Nigeria (AUATON), dropping the contentious ‘workers’ tag. The drivers still consider this a victory. 

AUATON can picket, ask for their rights and organise appropriately. The general secretary of the Amalgamated Union of App-based Transporters of Nigeria (AUATON),  Ibrahim Ayoade, told TechCabal this morning that the victory was a hard-fought battle. “I can recollect where the struggle started. The first meeting we had was at YabaTech in 2016. Our second meeting was in the national stadium, and since then, it has been filled with ups and downs.”

Ayoade said with the approval of AUATON from Nigeria’s Ministry of Labour, the union would have a broader outlook. Ayoade says the name came after a lot of research, but the essence of the change is to extend the union beyond just drivers to everyone in the gig economy involved in the transport business. According to him, the name is a “win-win” and the first time in the history of gig workers in Africa that a union would represent the industry globally.  The national treasurer for the Union, Jolaiya Moses,  said on a separate call “We are done with registration as far as the trade union act is concerned.”

AUATON is open to collaboration 

The next stage is a collaboration between the app companies and drivers. Ayoade says the union wants better driving conditions for transporters. “A union is not about bringing any company down, whether it is Uber or Bolt. It is a matter of understanding. If these app companies are doing well, we will do well. Our members will earn more money,” he said.  

Joseph Olaoluwa Senior Reporter, TechCabal

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