Ride-hailing startup Bolt will now pay its UK drivers sick pay if they have been affected by Covid-19 coronavirus.

Sick pay will be offered to Bolt drivers who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or who have been instructed to self-isolate by a doctor. They will need either a signed doctor’s note, letter or an email from Public Health England or a signed self-certification provided by Bolt.

Drivers eligible for Bolt’s hardship fund will be compensated for 14 days and receive £100 per week. Statutory sick pay in the UK is £94.25 per week.

The sick pay package was put together with the support of British trade union GMB. For now, it will only be available to UK drivers.

Bolt, an Estonian-headquartered startup that launched in 2013, has more than a million drivers across 35 countries – mostly in Europe and Africa.

Coronavirus puts focus on gig economy

Bolt previously told Verdict that it could not offer sick pay for drivers affected by Covid-19 because “Bolt drivers are independent service providers using our platform”.

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By GlobalData

Rivals Uber and Lyft also class their drivers as independent workers and have long insisted they could not offer sick pay for that reason.

However, the coronavirus pandemic – which has 252,000 confirmed cases and more than 10,000 deaths – saw Uber and Lyft offer coronavirus sick pay to its drivers earlier this month.

Bolt, Uber and Lyft are all suspending the accounts of drivers that test positive for Covid-19.

Covid-19 has drawn global attention to the fragile nature of work for those in the gig economy, who are often without sick pay and holiday pay.

However, in a sign that the pandemic has put pressure on firms to re-evaluate these conditions, a Bolt spokesperson told Verdict that the coronavirus sick pay is “a first step toward exploring a closer relationship between Bolt and GMB in the future”.

Verdict asked Bolt, formerly known as Taxify, for more details on this but the spokesperson was unable to provide further comment.

Bolt Covid-19 sick pay: The small print

To claim from the hardship fund, Bolt drivers must have also completed at least 150 trips in the six weeks leading up to the request for sick pay and must have been an active driver for at least six weeks.

However, some case by case exceptions will be made. Requests for coronavirus sick pay must be made within 48 hours of self-isolation.

The hardship fund has been available since 16 March and will end on 6 April 2020, or “until the guidance from Public Health England changes significantly”.

Sam Raciti, UK country manager, Bolt, said: “We wanted to do something that acknowledged that drivers – who are at the heart of our business – are currently going through difficult times. We feel this financial assistance policy achieves this. While we don’t have a formal relationship with GMB, we wanted to ensure that the offer we present helps drivers most impacted by COVID-19.

“GMB’s willingness to support and guide us in this endeavour is testament to them and those they represent. Furthermore, we are encouraged that they are playing an important role in assisting our investigation into temporary working opportunities for our drivers whilst travel in London slows down.”

Mick Rix, national officer, GMB Union said: “In these challenging times, those working in the gig economy are some of the most vulnerable and at risk of having no income whatsoever. Drivers undertaking services for Bolt have already seen the market collapse as the country faces a major economic shock due to COVID-19.

“I think many drivers, although worried about the immediate future, will be assured that Bolt has genuine good business ethics and values, and cares for its drivers. GMB is happy to support and endorse what Bolt has now put in place.”

Read more: Don’t expect a Bolt IPO any time soon, says CEO Markus Villig