The competition between homegrown ride-hailing unicorn Go-Jek and Singapore-based Grab to gain market share in Indonesia remains fierce, with both sides spending millions of dollars to keep their prices low and customers loyal. But a recent incident in East Java offers a microcosm into the other side of that equation — the drivers and how much they need to be paid to keep them on board.
Kompas reported yesterday that dozens of motorcycle taxi drivers (known locally as ojek) working for Grab in Malang, East Java’s second biggest city, decided to defect en masse to join up with rival Go-Jek. A large group of them could be seen at Go-Jek’s management office on Monday morning lining up to sign up with the other side.
The reasons the drivers gave for switching sides involved the intricacies of the compensation systems used by the two companoes to pay their “partner drivers” (a euphemistic term employed by ride-hailing companies to gloss over the fact that their drivers are not considered full employees but more like freelancers) but ultimately it came down to the drivers feeling they were making less at Grab and could earn more at Go-Jek.
Both companies use an incentive system for their drivers that requires them to earn a certain number of points by meeting certain quotas in order to earn daily bonuses (some critics have described this kind of system as a “gamification of work” designed to maximize economic exploitation in the gig economy).
The defecting Grab drivers told Kompas that to earn the minimum IDR50,000 (US$3.50) bonus they had to earn 200 “diamonds”. A GrabBike trip less than 10 kilometers long is worth just 10 diamonds meaning a driver would have to do 20 such fares in order to earn that minimum bonus.
Grab Food orders are worth 30 diamonds and GrabExpress package deliveries are worth 12 diamonds.
To get the next highest bonus of IDR80,000, drivers need to earn 265 diamonds, IDR130,000 requires 350 diamonds and IDR180,000 needs 400 diamonds.
Drivers said that doing 20 regular passenger trips would earn them an IDR80,000 bonus at Go-Jek, IDR30,000 more than what they’d get for the same amount of work for Grab.
“Grab is cheaper for passengers, but the bonus is also cheaper,” said one driver named Rizal.
Rizal said that when he first joined Grab, he could sometimes earn a IDR200,000 bonus in a day but that his income had decreased as the company made the bonuses more and more difficult to achieve and he had a hard time even earning IDR100,000. Other drivers complained that Grab’s system kept changing its rules almost every week.
Neither Grab nor Go-Jek officials in Malang chose to comment on the story.
The amounts listed by the drivers in Malang likely vary in different areas of the country, but the concept remains the same. While ride-hailing companies like to talk about how flexible it is for drivers to work for them, the reality is they have to grind away every day to earn enough points to earn those bonuses, since individual rides and orders pay very little.
Given Indonesia’s unemployment rate and an overabundance of labor, one might suspect that both companies are constantly tweaking their payment systems to see how little they can pay their drivers before they start quitting, a limit Grab seems to have found in this instance. Dissatisfaction over low pay as well as mass firings (many over drivers using illicit GPS software and the like to cheat the system) have also led to numerous protests by drivers across the country.
As customers, we greatly benefit from the competition between the two companies, but in their effort to find the best balance of price and service let’s hope the human element isn’t forgotten.
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