Hundreds of Uber drivers in Qatar go on strike after price cuts

(In this Feb. 13 story, corrects 6th paragraph to show Careem operates in 50 cities, not 32)

FILE PHOTO: The Uber app logo is seen on a mobile telephone in this October 28, 2016 photo illustration. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Illustration/File Photo

DOHA (Reuters) - Hundreds of drivers with ride-hailing service Uber [UBER.UL] in Qatar went on strike on Monday for the second time in a year to protest against fare cuts.

The U.S.-based company, which started operations in Doha in 2014, has in recent months cut fares by 15-20 percent for passengers amid growing competition from local firms.

Uber drivers in Doha stayed home on Monday to protest the cuts and an “upfront” service launched by Uber in November that allows passengers to view the total fare before their journey.

“The upfront [service] isn’t fair. If you get stuck in traffic or the passenger makes extra stops during the journey, we receive nothing for that,” said John, an Ethiopian driver who declined to give his second name.

“If they [Uber] don’t raise fares and treat drivers better we have many other platforms we can go to. I have a family to support,” he said.

Uber has tried to drive down taxi fares to win customers from local rivals in Qatar like Careem which has a larger market share than Uber in most of the 50 cities in the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan region in which it operates.

An Uber spokesman in Dubai said the company was “committed to dialogue with partner drivers” and had made improving their experience a priority.

“We are very proud of the high quality service they [drivers] offer to riders who want to get around Doha with a safe, efficient and affordable ride,” said the spokesman in a statement.

Thousands of Ethiopians, Indians and Nepalis work as Uber drivers in wealthy Qatar where unions and labor protests are banned and authorities penalize dissent with jail terms or immediate deportation.

Some drivers say they have struggled since an oil slump in mid-2014 that has squeezed state finances and last year saw Doha raise the domestic price of gasoline by 30 percent..

Reporting by Tom Finn; Additional reporting by Celine Aswad in Dubai; Editing by Janet Lawrence