Gojek drivers organize to push back against the algorithms

Gojek drivers go-jek gojek and momo
Image credit: findracadabra | Shutterstock.com

As Gojek drivers increasingly feel the squeeze from the company’s algorithms dictating their work, they are turning to each other for support.

A new report from MIT Technology Review explores how drivers are organizing themselves into informal “base camps,” where they can come together, share information, and take a break from the grind.

The idea itself is not new to Indonesia, the report states. Even before the arrival of Grab and Uber, drivers in Jakarta had long been organizing themselves into base camps.

Rida Qadri, an MIT computational social scientist who studies Jakarta’s ride-hailing driver communities, says that base camps became the network through which drivers around the city stayed in tight communication.

“Motorcycle drivers used to offer rides to people informally, and they would gather at street corners and food stalls to trade news and gossip or share tips for staying safe on the road. Once Gojek and other apps arrived, the habit carried over,” Qadri says.

But more than a space for information-sharing, base camps also give drivers a voice to influence the way Gojek works.

Over the last few years, the early gains that drivers experienced when they started working for Gojek have eroded. With more drivers being onboarded each day, jobs have become scarce and wages have stagnated or decreased.

The report also points to price wars with Singaporean competitor Grab, resulting in further decisions to cut drivers’ bonuses and reduce their take-home pay.

As base camps become a more cemented part of the ride-hailing landscape in Jakarta and other cities around Indonesia, they may also continue to play a role in influencing the company’s operations, using collective action to push back against algorithmic control.

Gojek on Twitter (GoT) is an informal base camp that has grown to be one of the largest and most influential driver communities on social media. From supporting female drivers’ safety to spoofing the app’s algorithms in favor of drivers, GoT is a space where drivers can share information, voice their concerns, and offer solutions to common problems they face on the job.

One recent breakthrough for GoT was its response to Gojek’s original policy requiring drivers to pay parking fees out of their own pocket if they picked up a food order. GoT pushed back against this policy and worked with the company to allow drivers to pass on the fee to customers at select malls and office locations.

GoT has also devised a reporting system for drivers that gives them incentive to inform Gojek about which malls charge parking fees and how much.

Still, leaders of these informal base camps and groups recognize that there is still a lot of work to be done.

Taha Syarahfil, the chair of Asosiasi Driver Online, says that it’s still difficult for Gojek drivers to organize and assert their rights without a legal framework. Furthermore, he says that their informal support for each other may not last long, as the platforms are also bent on their crackdown against unauthorized apps and infractions.

Gojek drivers are not fazed. The report notes that their victories with Gojek so far serve as a proof of the power of their strength in numbers. They are now even more encouraged to continue pushing for better regulation and conditions, and are targeting the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Labor as their next step.

“You don’t get the kind of regulations you want without worker power, and you don’t have worker power without worker community,” says Veena Dubal, a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

Gojek forms part of GoTo along with another tech giant, Tokopedia. GoTo successfully went public in Indonesia amid failed SPAC deals of other ASEAN tech companies in the US, including Grab.

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