Uber, the taxi-app firm, is facing legal action over whether it affords its drivers basic rights and treats them as employees rather than “partners” or “contractors”.
The suit is being brought by employment law firm, Leigh Day, on behalf of the union for professional drivers, GMB.
According to GMB, Uber does not abide by the law in relation to the pay, holiday allowance, or health and safety of its drivers.
Nigel MacKay of Leigh Day said: “Uber not only pays the drivers but it also effectively controls how much passengers are charged and requires drivers to follow particular routes. As well as this, it uses a ratings system to assess drivers’ performance.
“We believe that it’s clear from the way Uber operates that it owes the same responsibilities towards its drivers as any other employer does to its workers. In particular, its drivers should not be denied the right to minimum wage and paid leave. Uber should also take responsibility for its drivers, making sure they take regular rest breaks.”
An Uber spokesman defended its relationship with drivers, saying: “One of the main reasons drivers use Uber is because they love being their own boss. As employees, drivers would drive set shifts, earn a fixed hourly wage, and lose the ability to drive elsewhere as well as the personal flexibility they most value.
“The reality is that drivers use Uber on their own terms: they control their use of the app.”
Steve Garewick, the branch secretary for professional drivers at the GMB, said a number of people driving for Uber had approached them unhappy at the practices at the firm.
“There are multiple issues, but we are concerned about quality of life,” he said, estimating that the 75,000 professional drivers operating in London had been joined by around 20,000-30,000 or so Uber drivers in recent years.
According to Uber chief executive, Travis Kalanick, Californian based firm, part-owned by Google, hopes to have around 42,000 drivers operating in London by 2016.
Garewick said: “Uber say drivers only do x amount of hours – but those are only the times of the journeys, not the times in between and the time driving into London and everything else.
“Private hire insurance – if you are very lucky – with a decent no-claims, is around £1,400, but the average is £2000-£2500. So you have to make an awful lot of money on top of car rental, insurance, tax, before you even start to make a living.
“If you are earning £6.20 odd [per hour]. Frankly, that is not living.”
Garewick said that drivers felt very insecure and unsupported by the firm, and that there are also safety concerns for both drivers and passengers.
“If Uber aren’t happy about something, they will just turn you off the system. But also, there’s a lack of trained, quality drivers. So if you have a guy who works in a restaurant the week before and who suddenly rents a vehicle after getting his licence from TfL, then the question is: what skills have they got to drive? Especially if they are not used to driving. GPS is not always going to be the solution. It’s a safety issue for customers as well.”
There are also issues around forthcoming “cross-border” legislation that is slated to come into action in London in September, which will allow a firm that doesn’t have a driver available in a certain area to subcontract to another firm.
“Drivers are completely worried about how this is going to affect things, as people will start subcontracting work, coming into London, rocking up to do journeys. You then have an even more flooded market, with everyone cutting rates”, Garewick said.
Uber, which has seen thousands of drivers join from private local minicab firms and larger ones such as Addison Lee, argues that its drivers enjoy being self-employed.
However, Uber drivers have raised concerns around increased commission paid to Uber (now between 20%-25% depending on type of car), lack of support from Uber’s central London office, and the charge for internet data, which drivers pay even when not actively working (around £3.50 per week).
Garewick says he doesn’t know exactly how many Uber drivers have joined GMB because at present the union’s sign-up system does not require a person to disclose who they work for.
“But we know there’s been a swell in membership and we know from the turn out we have had that a lot of them are Uber drivers”, he said.
Uber is currently also facing legal action in Canada, where a £198m lawsuit against the company has been filed by other drivers seeking to stop it operating in the province of Ontario.
On Friday, the local council of Nottingham, UK, will meet to debate whether or not the firm will be allowed to operate in the area.
This article was written by Hannah Jane Parkinson, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 29th July 2015 14.56 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010