Uber employees in Singapore told to clear out, drivers in limbo (VIDEO)

A ComfortDelgro taxi passes Uber and Grab offices in Singapore March 26, 2018. — Reuters pic
A ComfortDelgro taxi passes Uber and Grab offices in Singapore March 26, 2018. — Reuters pic

SINGAPORE, March 27 — At least 100 Singapore employees of ride-hailing firm Uber were told to pack up and leave yesterday morning as a result of rival Grab’s acquisition of its operations in South-east Asia, but Grab clarified hours later that the Uber employees are on paid leave.

Its top executives added that they are committed to finding a role for Uber’s staff in Grab.

“We will be having conversations with all 500+ employees on how they would fit into Grab. In the meantime, all Uber employees are on paid leave,” Grab said in a media statement, acknowledging it had been an “emotional and trying day” for Uber’s affected employees.

“We have faith that many of Uber’s employees are as committed to improving the lives of people in Southeast Asia as we are. We look forward to welcoming them to the Grab family.”

Grab’s head of people Ong Chin Yin posted on professional networking platform LinkedIn that it would be having a town hall on Tuesday afternoon with its co-founders.

In the wake of both firms’ public announcement yesterday morning, however, Uber employees were told to pack up within two hours and leave the company’s office at Mapletree Anson in Tanjong Pagar by 12.30pm, according to an affected employee who worked as a telesales specialist and only wanted to be known as Mohd.

The company broke the news to the employees in a meeting room, and the employee said no information was provided on any compensation they were entitled to.

“During the meeting, we were told to pack up, shut down operations and leave the office by 12.30pm. We were given no updates about severance package or anything,” said the 24-year-old, who joined the company in March last year and whose contract was to run until September.

“We were only told that we were free to apply for other jobs,” he said.

“After the meeting, everyone was left speechless. Some people were in tears. I was devastated and I felt very lost. All of a sudden I was out of a job,” he added.

Videos on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram have surfaced of Uber employees hastily packing their belongings.

The employee said the telesales department consisted of at least 100 employees.

“Full-timers and staff from other departments were also packing up,” said Mohd.

Although there had been reports of Grab’s potential acquisition in the weeks leading up to the announcement yesterday, Mohd said that there were no official updates from management.

“Since there were no updates from our supervisor, we weren’t expecting it to affect our jobs,” he said.

“I have no other options at the moment, I definitely feel like we were hung out to dry. The least they could have done is given us more time and notice, rather than just two hours to pack up and leave.”

National Trades Union Congress assistant director-general Ang Hin Kee, who is the executive adviser to the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, said the labour movement tried to contact Uber yesterday to get more information but “all the phone lines, emails were out nd we couldn’t get in touch with anybody”.

He also raised concerns voiced by some Uber drivers whom he had met following the announcement.

For instance, some drivers who had signed on with Lion City Rentals had wondered what they could do, given that they could only take up jobs from Uber as part of the contract.

The Lion City Rentals office in Paya Lebar has been “closed until further notice”.

Lion City Rentals is operated by Lion City Holdings, a car rental subsidiary that is wholly-owned by Uber in Singapore.

“Now that that (Uber) is uncontactable, the drivers wouldn’t know what to do next, whether they can move on, whether they are in violation of their contract,” said Ang.

Drivers were also concerned whether they would be able to receive payments collected through the credit card platform, and ComfortDelGro drivers who have taken up UberFlash were also asking if they could take on JustGrab bookings.

ComfortDelGro and Uber had struck up a partnership, but this is now being reviewed, according to the taxi operator.

An Uber driver who wanted to be known as Frankie, 50, who drives his own car, wondered if fewer incentives would be given out to drivers now that there is “no more competition”.

This could reduce his earnings of about S$2,000 (RM5,930.89) a month, said Frankie, who has been driving with Uber for two years.

He is currently able to earn about S$250 extra a week by hitting the weekly targets.

Another driver, Ady, 30, said the news came “as a shock” and Uber drivers who went to Lion City Rentals’ office for answers found it closed.

Calling for more clarity on the impact on Uber drivers, Ady said: “There’s no transition period of handing over It’s all this ambiguity (that is still floating around) Everyone is unsure, and we don’t know what’s next.”

While the regulators work out a solution, Ang called for a regulatory sandbox to “allow ComfortDelGro drivers to take up any job from any platform and not be restricted”.

Grab’s acquisition includes Uber’s operations in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, and is the largest-ever deal of its kind in the region.

As part of the agreement, Grab will be integrating Uber’s ride-sharing and food delivery business into its existing platforms, and Uber will take a 27.5 per cent stake in Grab.

Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi will also join Grab’s board.

Uber drivers and riders, UberEats customers, merchant partners and delivery partners will be migrated to the Grab platform, as the two companies vowed to work together to ensure a quick transition.

The Uber app will continue to operate for two weeks while Uber Eats will run until the end of May, after which Uber delivery and restaurant partners will move to the GrabFood platform. — TODAY