KUALA LUMPUR | A woman has reported Grab to the Industrial Relations Department for unfair removal from the platform, in a case that could test the ride-hailing service’s insistence that its drivers are not employees.

The woman identified only as Loh alleged she was blocked from driving on the platform operated by MyTeksi Sdn Bhd over a dispute with a passenger at the Senai Airport in Johor last November, according to The Star.

She said the passenger booked for two vehicles on the “Just Grab” tier, the cheapest on the platform, despite there being seven of them each with a luggage bag.

“I told them I can only take three passengers with their three pieces of luggage; anything else will be an overload but they were upset because they wanted another family member to also hop into my car.

“The other Grab driver had apparently told the fourth passenger to ride in my vehicle because his car was smaller than mine.

“But I refused to do so. The passengers were unhappy and they scolded me until I dropped them off at their home, “ Loh was quoted as saying.

Loh asserted that the dispute was made known to Grab via social media, after which her account was suspended.

She said the passenger also claimed to have lodged a police report after Loh contacted him for clarification, but added that she has never been called for an investigation.

The woman lodged her report against MyTeksi under Section 20 (1) of the Industrial Relations Act 1967 that pertains to unfair dismissal or dismissal without cause.

A Grab spokesman said drivers could be “permanently suspended” over a variety of complaints, with decisions to do so being multi-factorial, but added that the firm has a zero-tolerance policy for infringements.

“We have a fair strike system in place for a segment of recalcitrant driver-partner who continuously disregard the guidelines and policies that are put in place to maintain a positive user environment.

“Any action taken on our driver-partner is also always communicated and explained to them, “ the Grab spokesman told The Star.

Critically for Loh and others like her, the law specifically covers employees in the traditional sense, which Grab insists its drivers are not.

Instead, the firm describes these as “driver-partners”, effectively pushing them to operate as self-employed contractors without the usual legal protections accorded to workers.

The rapid advent of the so-called “gig economy” has forced Malaysia and other countries to grapple with the legal quandaries and ethical dilemmas of the industry.

While initially hailed as opportunities for individuals to commoditise their spare time and assets, such ad hoc work has become the main source of income for many, especially youths, due to disproportionately high unemployment affecting them.

Courts in foreign jurisdictions have previously concluded that “gig economy” workers are employees in the traditional sense but firms are still not legally obliged to consider them so outside of lawsuits.

Instead, they continue treating “gig economy” workers as independent contractors, effectively negating any legal obligations they would have owed them if they were counted as workers.