Number of TVDE drivers has tripled in five years, along with complaints

“People no longer feel safe getting into these cars”, warns trade unionist

In five short years, the number of TVDE driver certificates issued has tripled (from 18,265 in the first year the law opening Portugal up to these digital platforms came into force, to 66,325 as of October 3) – but the number of complaints from ‘customers’ has also skyrocketed, frequently highlighting frightening stories that seem to get pushed out of the headlines with unseemly haste.

With pressure from all sides now for much more ‘control’ of the sector that ‘threatened to destroy traditional taxis’ in the early days, it is clear that far from this, TVDE has become a vehicle for exploitation, particularly when it comes to immigrants.

Various urban myths about TVDE drivers refusing to allow clients to put luggage in the boot (as they have colleagues sleeping in them) have been reinforced by the fact that even the Associação Apoio ao Imigrante (Immigrant support association) is calling for ‘action’.

Association president Timóteo Macedo tells Lusa about the growing number of TVDE drivers from countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and India.

While customers complain their drivers “cannot speak Portuguese” and “have no local driving knowledge”, Macedo highlights the precarious nature of these jobs, that don’t enforce basic laws.

He also explains that the drivers themselves “are somewhat frightened by the position of Portuguese society… the xenophobia and extreme racism that is sometimes conveyed in the media.

“(Immigrants) are not going to complain, they know perfectly well that they are victims of very extreme positions. There aren’t enough people to work on many sides, that’s normal. But they are victims and we have to fight this exploitation, and we have to fight the racism and xenophobia that exists in society,” he said.

Recalling that immigrants have, over the years, made up for the shortage of workers in construction, agriculture, catering and now TVDE, Timóteo Macedo emphasised that Portugal has laws for this sector. It is time to see they are enforced. 

Monique Arruda, a researcher at the Centre for Studies and Research in Law at the Portuguese Catholic University, has carried out an analysis of labour on TVDE digital platforms, focusing on immigrants, who “make up the majority of the workforce”.

She found that many opt for TVDE because it is “easy” to get into while they are trying to legalise themselves: TVDE operators tend to hire ‘service providers’, and thus will not be aware drivers operating under their banner do not speak Portuguese, let alone have little knowledge of the areas they are circulating in.

SIC Noticias has done some research into the situation, saying there are 13 licensed TVDE operators (as of September 25) in Portugal, “although only two are currently operating: Uber, the pioneer in Portugal since 2014, and Bolt (which when it started operating in 2018 was called Taxify)”.

According to data from September 1 from the IMT (institute of mobility and transport) – available on the agency’s website – there are 16,043 electronic platform operators, i.e. partners of Uber and Bolt, who, through the establishment of a company required by the 2018 law provide work for drivers.

Law 45/2018, which regulates electronic platforms for transport in unmarked vehicles, came into force on November 1, 2018, after long months of parliamentary discussion and the taxi sector’s protest for several years, with protests in several cities and several days of stoppages.

The law then allowed for a four-month transitional period for platform operators to adapt, with four operating in Portugal at the time – Uber, Cabify, Bolt (formerly Taxify) and Kapten (formerly Chauffeur Privé).

Obligations imposed by law

In order to be a partner and have cars at the service of the platforms, it is compulsory to set up a company, as the law only allows legal persons to operate, which are also subject to a licence from the IMT (valid for 10 years) to operate.

Drivers (as individuals) are also required by law to have their activity certified by the IMT, after training of at least 50 hours, with a practical and theoretical component, and a written contract with a partner, who becomes the employer.

Unlike taxi drivers, whose legal regime has been revised and comes into force today, they are prevented from picking up passengers in the street without being called or from driving in bus lanes, nor can they stop at taxi ranks. They are also forbidden to spend more than 10 hours a day behind the wheel, regardless of the application for which they work.

If reports and complaints are to be believed, none of this is actually happening.

“Claims and dumping”

Following the protests by taxi drivers, the TVDE sector itself has begun demanding better working conditions, having held several demonstrations in 2022 and  this year, writes SIC.

The sector is demanding more supervision, a flat rate for services and an extension of the registration period to 10 years, among other demands.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Transport and Communications Unions (FECTRANS) has called for a “more intensive” intervention by supervisory bodies in the TVDE sector, pointing out that drivers are currently unprotected, with no working hours, leading them to work “long hours in order to earn a decent income”.

STRUP, the Portuguese Road and Urban Transport Workers’ Union (STRUP) has gone so far as to threaten lodging a complaint with the European Ombudsman if the government doesn’t review the law and “put an end to the abuses” that are taking place ‘in plain sight’.

“This sector cannot continue to work in ‘dumping’. The accounts were submitted to the State about two years ago and nothing has been done so far”, said STRUP’s Isidro Miranda. 

“All you have to do is go to a complaints portal and you realise that people no longer feel safe getting into a car like this”.

Dumping is a commercial practice that consists of trading products, goods or services for prices that are extraordinarily below their fair value, very often below cost.

Sources: LUSA/ SIC