University of Sydney
Public transport in Indonesia is lacking, plagued by traffic jams. Cities like Jakarta run because of armies of motorcycle taxi drivers called “ojek” who zip around the city delivering passengers and goods. Initially operating from informal stands, ojek was transformed overnight by the ride hailing apps GoJek and Grab. Ride hailing companies became the new intermediary between drivers and passengers, leading to widespread protest. Initial protest centred around banning ride hailing apps, but as more drivers adopted the system, protests shifted towards pay and working conditions. Contemporary discourse in social sciences has been extremely critical of ride hailing with condemnation from academics like Aulia Nastiti, Alex Rosenblatt and Luke Stark. Focusing on algorithmic management, they document how individual driver autonomy is eliminated through their precarious employment structure and reliance on exploitative working conditions. This paper highlights the subaltern responses by ojek drivers that subvert algorithmic management from ride hailing companies. Drivers can manipulate their app platform through “strategies of opacity” to disguise activities, improving their flexibility and working conditions whilst under the management of the ride hailing apps. These strategies are conceptualised through Gerald Mars’ concept of fiddling, a framework centred around acceptable “cheating” at work.
Henry Chim is an independent scholar and anthropologist affliated with the University of Sydney.