Struck by lightning: Bolt faces action after allegations that they failed to pay the legal minimum wage

April 3, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Former Bolt driver Andrei Donisa has claimed to be denied minimum wage pay in his role and unfairly dismissed for not accepting enough fares. The transportation platform app is now facing legal action in a high-profile case in which the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is supporting Donisa’s claims.

What does this mean?

Operating similarly to other popular rail-hailing apps, such as Uber and Ola, Bolt promotes flexible working conditions for its drivers. Its website states that drivers can “drive anytime” with “no minimum hours and no boss”. Markus Villig, the CEO of Bolt, even argues that Bolt drivers can earn over 10% more on average compared to other platforms. Yet, Donisa’s contrary experience has led him to question the ethical standards of the company. 

Firstly, he claims that once he deducted his expenses from earnings, he was paid less than the minimum wage of £8.21 per hour. Secondly, he focuses on Bolt’s policy of temporarily blocking its drivers who accept less than 50% of rides offered to them, increasing the length of bans as time goes on. It is also not the first time the Estonian-founded company has been subjected to legal enquiry in the UK, initially being shut down by the TFL in 2017 for failing “to obtain an operating license”.

What's the big picture effect?

This story highlights the growing tensions about workers’ rights in the gig economy. As platform-based business structures are becoming more commonplace, so too are discussions surrounding definitions and what rights and support workers can expect. With numerous employment law cases to act as precedent, from Uber to Pimlico Plumbers, this emphasises the need for greater clarity regarding worker status. There is even greater scope for expanding the types of employment. Hermes, for instance, has recently offered drivers the opportunity to opt-in to be “self-employed-plus” and gain access to further benefits. 

If Donisa’s employment status case is successful, it could affect all 35,000 Bolt drivers. But greater still it could impact the working conditions of 4.7m gig economy workers currently operating in the UK. It is, therefore, in these companies’ best interests to reflect on their employment models and enact positive changes to avoid any further potentially costly forms of litigation, reputational damage (especially given Bolt’s strategy to be the UK’s leading provider), or decreased profit margins. 

Additionally, whilst the arrival of COVID-19 exaggerates workers’ concerns, especially concerning sick pay, ironically, it might also place workers’ rights at the top of employers’ agenda. Bolt originally claimed they could not offer financial support, but like their rivals Uber and Lyft, they have gone back on that decision. Could the act of offering a broader compensation fund for drivers provide a glimpse of hope regarding the treatment of gig workers? 

It remains to be seen what the impact of additional workers’ rights cases will be or if these changes will be further enacted. But what is clear is that those offering flexible working arrangements still have a long way to go.

Report written by Katrina Hughes

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