Our business in India is in very solid shape: Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

Covid-19 has been a stark reminder that everyone, regardless of employment status, should be able to work in the way she or he chooses, says Uber CEO DARA KHOSROWSHAHI
The social security code, introduced by the government and passed by Parliament, has given a leg-up to Uber, which has been pushing for such legislation in the US too. In an exclusive interview on email, Uber Chief Executive Officer DARA KHOSROWSHAHI discusses with Surajeet Das Gupta the impact of the code on the firm’s driver partners and the performance of the company after the lockdown in India. Edited excerpts:

 
How important has the social security code been for the rides business? How do you compare it with global realities?

The Code on Social Security has made India one of the first countries to establish such benefits nationwide and protection for gig and platform workers. This new law recognises that all workers, not just those classified as employees, deserve to have a basic safety net.

 
This law will provide over 450 million Indian workers benefits such as life, disability and accident insurance; health and maternity benefits; as well as old-age protection.

 
The government has set a precedent here by improving upon an outdated employment system and fundamentally transforming what has been a binary choice between full-time and independent work. Workers will no longer have to choose between being an employee with benefits but less flexibility, or an independent contractor with more flexibility but no safety net. They can now get the best of both worlds.

 
The code safeguards the future of work, and requires companies like Uber to step up and play our part in creating better, flexible work, and earning opportunities for people.

 
As a company, do you think the fund as envisaged in the code would be enough for taking care of the drivers? What are the kinds of benefit you want to provide them through this fund?

All benefits will be provided through social security schemes implemented by the government, and that will also leverage existing government welfare initiatives.

 
We believe Uber, others in our industry, and similar companies have a responsibility to contribute to improving the standard of work for our drivers. We have launched welfare initiatives such as UberCare, which provides drivers facilities like micro loans, school admission support for their children, and free online doctor consultation. We hope the social security schemes envisaged under the code enable more drivers to access emergency health care benefits of government welfare initiatives such as Ayushman Bharat.

 
The code is similar to what we are proposing even in the US, where we have suggested that gig companies such as Uber should be required to establish and contribute to portable benefit funds. Workers would earn into these funds, based on how many trips they did on the app and then they will be able to withdraw that money at any time to use for benefits such as health insurance.

 
Covid-19 has been a stark reminder for the global health and financial community that everyone, regardless of employment status, should be able to work in the way she or he chooses without having to compromise on social security benefits.

 
There is concern that by setting aside a percentage of your top line you might be forced to increase tariffs. How do you make up for the loss in the top line? Will it be through increase in volumes or through compromise on margins?

We don’t anticipate any meaningful increase in fares. Our business in India is in very solid shape, so we don’t expect any real impact on demand or volumes. On the contrary, we see our contribution to the social security schemes as priority and something that will move the sector forward. It offers multiple wins for drivers, Uber, our industry and the government.

 
The market in India has grown well after Covid-19. What is your expectation of growth for India and has the pandemic affected your road to profitability plans in the country?

 
When cities start moving again, so does Uber. Over the past few months, we have resumed services in all of our 83 cities in the country and are seeing green shoots of recovery, with our business being stronger in September than it was in June.

Demand varies across categories and markets, with some places like Sri Lanka and products like auto recovering much faster than others. In Delhi and Mumbai, for example, our auto business has bounced back to almost 80 per cent of pre-Covid levels.

The National Capital Region has entered the top 10 global market for Uber, based on the number of trips taken in September, with more than 1 million weekly rides.

We have just marked our seventh anniversary in India, which continues to remain one of Uber’s most strategic markets and will drive growth for us. We will continue to maintain the highest standards of safety to help the riders and drivers, and remain on the path to profitability in South Asia.



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