An open letter from the family of Gabriel Bringye to head of Bolt UK Gareth Taylor

Fri, Apr 28, 2023, 3:08 PM

15 February 2023

Dear Gareth,

On Friday this week it will be two years since Gabriel was killed. That day, the Bolt app recorded him as unresponsive and stationary for almost six hours and failed to raise so much as an automated welfare check.

Over the last two years we have tried to piece our lives back together and remember Gabriel as he was: a beautiful kind person who would do anything for those he loved. We want to focus on the many amazing memories that we have of him but due to your inaction we are forced to return to what happened on that day in order to get justice for Gabriel and the many other drivers who continue to work in unsafe conditions for Bolt.

Our grief is amplified every time we hear about another driver, traumatised or injured on the job and still receiving no support from Bolt, drivers like Garad Hussein in Birmingham, who sustained life changing injuries and psychological trauma following an attack by Bolt customers. After numerous operations Garad is still unable to resume work and has received no support from the corporation he was earning profits for when he was attacked.

When Gabriel was killed, all we got was one phone call and a card with your corporate logo on it, while in the press Bolt claimed we were being given all the support we needed. So, when in your most recent letter you mention that there is now a Bolt Formal Care team who follow up after an incident happens, we hoped that this team would provide proper support and were very concerned to learn that its involvement with drivers is at best tokenistic and at worst, counterproductive.

We have been made aware of the case of Abdurahman Mohamud, for example, whose car was stolen by a customer who attacked him while he was working for Bolt in September last year. Bolt suspended his account on the very same day and though the car was recovered hours later, he has been left without it - and therefore his means to support his family - for almost five months. Other drivers also report their accounts having been suspended when these incidents happen which adds further stress to already traumatic situations. The contribution of the Bolt Formal Care Team, Abdurahman tells us, was to suggest he pay for private therapy and hire a car to get back on the road. I do not know how you have the audacity to claim to a grieving family that you have invested in improved care and that you are taking this issue seriously when this is the way your so-called Care Team is behaving in practice.

Regarding the meeting we were finally offered with you, we found this experience extremely challenging and retraumatising. It seemed you felt that the fact you were not working for Bolt at the time Gabriel was killed somehow absolved you of responsibility for taking appropriate action now, to ensure that drivers working for you are kept safe and supported. It felt like you were trying to pass the blame and just clear up someone else's mess rather than rectify a wrong that is very much your responsibility as Regional Manager for the UK and Ireland.  

Furthermore, we were very disappointed that you refused our request to be accompanied by our trade union representatives. As you know, last year we worked together with the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) to launch Gabriel’s Campaign for Drivers Safety in the hope that Gabriel is not forgotten and this tragic event can at least lead to positive change. We believe the demands of the campaign are very reasonable and cost effective. If the implementation of these demands can stop another family being subjected to the pain and grief we have suffered, every penny spent will be worth it. At the very least, as the bereaved family we should be entitled to whatever support we require during these difficult discussions and allowing the IWGB a seat at the table would be an act not only of compassion for us but also an indication to us and to your drivers that you are in fact willing to treat these matters with the seriousness they deserve.

If you are genuinely interested in hearing drivers’ honest perspectives and are willing to consider making changes that meet their needs and provide meaningful support, you must agree to meet with their elected representatives from the IWGB. And while we would like to meet again to discuss these matters further, we will not do so while being denied the right to support from our advocates.

Turning now to your recent letter. You wrote that the provision of drivers’ insurance is a priority but two years after Gabriel’s death there is no sign of Bolt introducing this. We were also concerned by your statement, based on a survey conducted by Bolt, that “75% of drivers state no issues at all.” Firstly, since Gabriel lost his life working for you, we believe that even one driver exposed to such danger without support is one too many. Secondly, with Bolt drivers denied basic worker rights and regularly subjected to termination with no oversight and accountability, we seriously question the reliability of the data that you gather since drivers will feel pressured to tell you what you want to hear. Thirdly, despite this, even your own data suggests 25% of your workforce - and that is thousands of drivers - are reporting abuse directly to you yet still, no real action is being taken.

It is incredibly disappointing to see how little progress has been made so far and we are determined to continue our public campaign until you agree to sit at the table with us and with the IWGB to plan for meaningful change. What drives us is the desire to make sure that no one else ever has to go through what we are going through, if it can be prevented. With this motivation in mind, we will once again reiterate our demands.

Bolt must verify customer ID with password protection on the app so that stolen phones cannot be used to order ‘trap jobs’.

This would reduce the risk of stolen devices being used to book cars and cost Bolt very little to implement. Your stated concern that this might create a barrier for people choosing to use Bolt shows once again that you are choosing profits over protecting your workers. This assertion seems to us deeply disrespectful and ignores what we and many drivers are calling for as a basic safety measure.

Partitions and CCTV should be made available to drivers on all apps at a rate subsidised by licensing authorities and Bolt.

It is positive to hear that you have been exploring CCTV being available for private hire drivers in the way that it is compulsory for many other forms of transport in London. We believe Bolt could easily go into a partnership with a CCTV provider and subsidise this for drivers. Because of the way you choose to employ your workers, on low pay and with no rights, they should not have to shoulder the full burden of this cost. Instead, the multinational, multimillion pound company they work for should do this. We would like Bolt to work with the IWGB in the trial of this so we can ensure that you are given honest, expert feedback from drivers who have worked in the industry for a long time and feel protected enough to give thorough feedback without fear of repercussions.

Bolt must provide sick pay equivalent to average income for drivers who have been injured at work while they recover.

This should be made an extremely high priority by Bolt. You have been in your post long enough to have implemented this and even your main competitor Uber has a policy in place. We demand that drivers are supported financially when they suffer injuries while working for Bolt, just as Bolt would do for you if you were ill or injured.

Bolt must implement the worker status that is being unlawfully denied to drivers. This would provide a vital safety net by providing paid holidays and ending poverty pay.

Bolt must stop the incorrect classification of drivers as independent contractors. Uber has lost in the Supreme Court and Bolt engages drivers the same way. Bolt would prefer to bide its time and wait for the law to catch up with them - which it will - rather than to do the right thing and give drivers the basic rights, that were intended to provide universal basic standards for every worker and which individuals in traditional employment would never dream of working without. These rights would mean drivers could earn more, could take time off when they have suffered a traumatic incident, and not have to work long, dangerous hours that might increase the chances of being in dangerous situations. Bolt’s endless pursuit of profits, whilst treating drivers as disposable, has to stop.

Bolt must introduce and properly staff a functioning complaints system to provide appropriate support for drivers on the job.

As we have already highlighted in the case of Abdurahman Mohamud, this function is grossly inadequate and needs to provide drivers with the proper support they need when incidents happen - not just function as a PR box ticking exercise so Bolt can claim they are now doing something they are in reality not. Furthermore, we believe that in order to meet drivers’ needs, this system needs to be developed in collaboration with drivers and their elected representatives within the IWGB.

Bolt must recognise the IWGB and agree to meet regularly with union representatives to monitor ongoing support and safety improvements.

Our lives have been destroyed by Gabriel’s death and it should be up to us, his bereaved family, who we want to work with and bring to meetings to support us. In the wake of Gabriel’s murder, while Bolt was nowhere to be found it was our union, the IWGB, which supported us through this difficult time. It is disgusting that you still feel it is appropriate to deny us this request, just to avoid interacting with unions at all costs.

More broadly, engaging in good faith with us and with the IWGB is the only way you can hope to implement effective change and safeguarding measures, and make decisions that protect not simply short term profits but the long term viability of your business as a whole, of which drivers like Gabriel and Garard and Abdulrahman are the backbone. Sitting down at the table with us in good faith is the only way to make this right.

Two years have passed but our hearts are still broken. We will head to Jarrow Rd on Friday to remember Gabriel and renew our commitment to continue campaigning until drivers are heard, their rights are respected and their safety protected. Until these changes are made, Bolt still has blood on its hands. In Gabriel’s name it is time now to do the right thing, before one more life is lost.

Kind regards,

Renata and Mara

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