‘Threat of abuse and violence still part of daily work’: Bereaved women fight to protect drivers of gig economy | Crime

On the evening of February 17, 2021, Gabriel Bringye said goodbye to his fiancée and assured her that he would not be working late. Hours later, police were on the doorstep of their east London home. He had been killed on the job, lured by a group of teenagers who had booked his car on the Bolt taxi app in order to rob him.

Known as the ‘trap job’, the group used a stolen phone to book the trip which ended in the death of the 37-year-old driver. Although his vehicle sat idle for nearly six hours while booked for a job, Bolt had no automated system in place to raise the alarm; Gabriel was found by a passerby. He died at the scene.

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

Gabriel Bringye with his sister and son. Photograph: Courtesy of the family

Renata, 35, remembers her older brother as a family man: “He never had a problem with anyone. If anyone needed anything, he was the first to rush to help. The Romanian national, who had worked as a driver for five years at the time of his death, was living with his fiancee, sister and nine-year-old son in Walthamstow, having left Spain for London more than a decade ago. . After working in the construction industry, Gabriel became a VTC 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 rocked Renata and she deleted the Bolt app from her phone. “I don’t want this to happen to me too, because I have my grandson to raise,” she says. Gabriel’s killers, aged 18 and 19, were convicted of manslaughter at the Old Bailey in mid-March, with the prosecution arguing the murder was the result of a plan to rob a driver . Since Gabriel’s death, other Bolt pilots 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 had to undergo several operations after an attack in Birmingham last December.

Bolt introduced welfare checks on static vehicles after Gabriel’s murder, a change that IWGB President Alex Marshall attributes to pressure from their campaign: if a car sits idle for a unexplained reason, the company security team will contact the driver and passenger, then the police if neither responds. But Gabriel and Fazecas are pushing for more comprehensive protections. In addition to requirements for customer photos, vehicle partitions and in-vehicle CCTV, they request that the app introduce password protection. For Fazecas, 37, it’s key as Gabriel was ambushed by a group who had booked the trip on a stolen phone. “If they had a login password, so they couldn’t take a trap trip, Gabriel would still be alive today. »

The vigil organized on the occasion of the anniversary of the death of Gabriel Bringye.
The vigil organized on the occasion of the anniversary of the death of Gabriel Bringye. Photography: IWGB

The campaign pushed Bolt to implement better protections for drivers by writing letters outlining their demands, protesting outside company headquarters and holding a vigil and rally on the anniversary. of Gabriel’s death. It was at the latter event that the campaign was officially launched, with Nader Awaad, President of the United Private Hire Drivers branch of the IWGB, saying: “Every driver deserves to feel safe in their workplace, but a year after Gabriel’s tragic accident [killing] the threat of abuse, harassment and violence is still part of the daily work.

While the campaign’s demands are directed primarily at Bolt, Marshall says he’s “hoping for a domino effect” for workers in the gig economy. Worker status is integral to driver safety, he says: the precariousness of the gig economy often pushes drivers to accept jobs they may feel uncomfortable doing for such as a client with a bad grade or feeling unsafe working at night. Employment rights allow drivers to “do basic risk assessments,” he says: “When you’re constantly underpaid, you’re constantly working to try to achieve goals… It can happen at a point where you think, ‘I don’t. I really like the look of this job, I didn’t earn enough today so I should probably take this job just to earn some extra.

Bolt says it has increased the fares it charges passengers, and as such, Bolt drivers now earn 22% more per mile than they did in January 2020.

Renata was all too used to making tough decisions about jobs, especially as a driver – and she says Bolt penalized her for turning down jobs. She claims she was repeatedly suspended from the application after her acceptance rate slipped below the company’s minimum threshold, due to the rejection of passengers with low grades – a story similar to that of Andrei Donisa , who filed a complaint in 2020 on the issue. Bolt says he has since dropped his acceptance rate policy. Renata points to another imbalance: while drivers must maintain a minimum 4.0 rating to work for the app, there doesn’t appear to be an equivalent requirement for passengers.

In addition to the lack of separation barriers, there are other factors that may put gig economy drivers at greater risk of attack than black cab drivers, Marshall says. In London, around 90% of black taxi drivers are white Britons, while 94% of private drivers are BAME, and he says racism may play a part in triggering attacks on some immigrant drivers: “If English is not your first language, it is a point of contention for some passengers. He also believes that the perception of how minicab drivers are treated by the companies they work for affects their treatment by the public. “Companies hire and fire them with the click of a button, they have no responsibility if a violent incident happens – people just think, ‘I can treat these guys however I want, because what’s going to happen? happen ?’ He compares this to how Black Taxi Drivers are often perceived: “They’re part of the fabric of London, 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 from a company representative; they are upset that the company later claimed in press releases to have backed them.

Gabriel Bringye with his fiancee Mara Fazecas
Gabriel Bringye with his fiancée Mara Fazecas. Photograph: Courtesy of the family

Gareth Taylor, UK and Ireland Regional Director at Bolt, said: “Bolt condemns violence in all its forms directed against private drivers, who we believe have the right to earn a living free from prejudice, intimidation, 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 up to the expected standard and we are truly sorry for that. Taylor said he intended to meet with Gabriel’s family in the coming weeks to convey his condolences and discuss their campaign demands.

In addition to static vehicle checks, Taylor said Bolt has also set up a 24-hour helpline and “significantly” increased its security team, which handles security-related incidents, including performing wellness checks. Taylor said the security team is also working to ban passengers with consistently poor reviews and is implementing a system to prevent drivers and passengers who have previously poorly rated themselves from being reconnected. “We are committed to making our platform as safe as possible for drivers and passengers and we have planned a series of safety improvements over the coming year,” he said.

In a show of solidarity with the family, several drivers accompanied the family to Kent when they brought Gabriel’s body back to his home in Romania last year via the English Channel. But Fazecas has not been able to feel settled anywhere since the death of her partner. “I always felt at home with him. I realized after he died that home isn’t 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 that [campaign] in memory of Gabriel – I don’t want his life to go away and nothing to change.

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