Private hire drivers should not be forced to work in fear | Workers’ Rights

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The trial of my fiance’s murderers is over, but there can be no real justice until gig economy companies start taking driver safety seriously.

On Tuesday, two teenagers were found guilty of killing my fiance. The boys didn’t know Gabriel, my soulmate, a man who loved fishing and the forest and his family above all else. They used the Bolt app to make a “trap booking” with the intention of robbing whoever accepted it. It looks like bad luck unless you know what life is like for drivers working in the so-called gig economy.

If you do, then you will know that many drivers or couriers working for the likes of Bolt, Uber and Deliveroo go to work every day in fear. You will know how many of them have been hurt or harassed just for doing their jobs. You will know that the corporations made rich by the hard work of people like Gabriel put nothing in place to protect them or support them in times of injury, illness or unspeakable grief. And you will understand why it is that in our eyes, there is no justice for Gabriel without change.

This is why Gabriel’s sister and I have been working with the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) to launch Gabriel’s Campaign for Driver Safety. The support we have received from our union, other drivers and the Romanian community has been amazing and I am so grateful that we do not have to walk this road alone.

Starting with Bolt, we are demanding all gig economy corporations introduce common-sense protections like safety partitions and customer ID checks. We also want these corporations to respect basic workers’ rights and offer fair sick pay to drivers who are injured at work while they recover.

The day Gabriel died, the Bolt app recorded him as unresponsive and stationary on a local journey for almost six hours – 344 minutes to be exact. I don’t know whether, if Bolt had raised the alarm earlier, there might have been a chance to save Gabriel’s life. What I do know is that this is a powerful reflection of how little regard Bolt has had for the wellbeing and very lives of its workers.

Gig economy work is seen as casual but there is nothing casual about it. These are still lives and livelihoods at stake. In 2021 an internal survey of IWGB drivers found that eight in 10 reported experiences of verbal abuse and harassment while seven in 10 had been physically attacked on the job.

Even after private hire drivers died in disproportionate numbers during the height of COVID-19, when Transport for London wasn’t even counting the dead, there is still no sick pay in the event of illness or injury.

No one knows better than me the true price of precarious work in an economy that treats migrant workers like Gabriel as disposable. When I lost him, I lost my whole future.

You always think you’ll get more time with the people you love and Gabriel and I did take our time. When we met I was 22 and seeing someone else but we became fast friends and for 10 years he was there for me whenever I needed him. A few years ago, when I needed somewhere to live, he was there for me again and I ended up moving in with him, his sister Renata and his nephew Nicholas, who he was helping to raise. You know someone in a different way when you see them every day and when they see you in your pyjamas and no makeup on. You see who they really are. And when I came to see Gabriel that way I did of course, inevitably and joyfully fall in love with him.

As soon as we got together we wished we had not waited those 10 years. We would have a family by now, perhaps moved back to Romania to the little house near the forest that we dreamed of. I felt anxious sometimes about becoming a first-time mum but Gabriel never wavered and when I saw how devoted and natural he was with his nephew, it reminded me that I did not have to worry because Gabriel was already the best dad in the world. It was just days before his death that our doctor contacted us to say that with IVF our chances of conceiving were good. We didn’t want to wait any more, it was high time for us to start our family. It was supposed to be our time.

I know that if he were here, Gabriel would tell me not to cry, that he loves me and I need to go on with my life but I still struggle to imagine a future without Gabriel in it.

The only thing harder to imagine is a future in which Gabriel is gone and still nothing has changed. That future I refuse to contemplate.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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