Uber drivers in India are to receive free life and accident insurance as the company looks to improve its reputation, following a string of controversies about everything from its aggressive corporate culture to the way it treats both drivers and passengers.
The San Francisco-based ride-sharing company announced on Tuesday it would provide insurance for accidental death and injury for drivers, if sustained while they are driving an Uber car.
Uber offers this type of cover elsewhere in Asia, including in Myanmar and Indonesia, but it does not do so in most countries or in the US. India is the largest market in which it has rolled it out so far.
The company has faced criticism and protests in India for encouraging drivers to take out large loans to buy a car on the promise of unrealistic earnings. The service was shut down earlier this year in some of India’s biggest cities, including New Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore, after drivers went on strike over reduced earnings.
“We are aware of the special responsibility we have to do our best for the drivers who use the app to earn a livelihood,” said Pradeep Parameswaran, head of Uber’s central operations in India, referring to the move to offer insurance.
Uber has expanded aggressively since entering India in 2013 and now has 450,000 drivers — though many of those also drive for its local rival Ola.
The company has identified India, with its rapidly expanding population and often inadequate public transport, as a “top country”. Uber’s Indian operation is making heavy losses, but Travis Kalanick, its former chief executive, said last year he could see a “path to profitability” for the country.
Drivers have complained they are pressured into taking on huge debts to buy a car on the promise of earning Rs100,000 ($1,560) per month. Once they start driving, they say a more realistic earnings target is Rs70,000 to Rs85,000 per month.
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