Uber back in court in UK to argue against workers rights for drivers

Uber is back in court in the UK today and tomorrow to try once again to overturn a  two year old employment tribunal ruling that judged a group of Uber drivers to be workers — meaning they’re entitled to workers benefits such as holiday pay, paid rest breaks and the national minimum wage. Uber lost its first […]

Uber is back in court in the UK today and tomorrow to try once again to overturn a  two year old employment tribunal ruling that judged a group of Uber drivers to be workers — meaning they’re entitled to workers benefits such as holiday pay, paid rest breaks and the national minimum wage.

Uber lost its first appeal against the ruling last year but has said it will continue to appeal.

On Sunday the GMB Union calculated that Uber drivers in the UK are £18,000 out of pocket as a result of the company continuing to fight the rights judgement, rather than paying the additional entitlements.

In a statement Sue Harris, GMB legal director, said: “These figures lay bare the human cost of Uber continuing to refuse to accept the ruling of the courts. While the company are wasting money losing appeal after appeal, their drivers are up to £18,000 out of pocket for the last two years alone.

“That’s thousands of drivers struggling to pay their rent, or feed their families. It’s time Uber admits defeat and pays up. The company needs to stop wasting money dragging its lost cause through the courts. Instead, Uber should do the decent thing and give drivers the rights to which those courts have already said they are legally entitled.”

Uber has previously suggested it would cost its UK business “tens of millions” of pounds if it reclassified the circa 50,000 ‘self-employed’ drivers operating on its platform as Limb (b) workers — an existing employment categorization that sits between ‘self-employed’ and ‘worker’.

The GMB Union notes that in Uber London’s latest accounts, released last week, it warns shareholders that it faces “numerous legal and regulatory risks”, both pertaining to existing regulations and the development of new regulations, as well as as a result of “claims and litigation” related to its classification of drivers as independent contractors.

This year the UK government has signalled a high level intent to bolster rights for more types of workers.

In February it announced a package of labor market reforms intended to respond to changing working patterns — saying it would expand workers rights for millions of workers and touting tighter enforcement.

Though it continues to consult on the issue, to shape the detail of its response, and it’s likely the Uber litigation will feed into government thinking given the timing of the case.

This month Uber drivers in the UK staged a one-day strike over pay and conditions, piling more pressure on the issue and calling for the company to immediately apply the tribunal judgement and implement employment conditions that respect worker rights for drivers.

Uber responded by pointing to changes it has made since the original tribunal ruling — including expanding a free insurance product it now offers to drivers and couriers across Europe.

It also claims to have changed how it takes feedback from drivers, and flagged a number of tweaks to its app it claims help drivers access data insights to boost their earnings.

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment on the latest stage of its appeal.

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which is defending the tribunal judgement at the hearings this week, backing former Uber drivers and co-claimants Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar, who brought the original case, has organized a demonstration to coincide with the hearing.

It says it expects hundreds of “precarious workers” — i.e. people who labor in the so-called ‘gig economy’ — to march through London in solidarity with the drivers and demand an end to all work that undermines workers rights.

The march is also being backed by the left-leaning UK political organization Momentum, the Communications Workers Union, War On Want, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union and United Voices of the World, among others.

A parallel event is being held in Glasgow to coincide with the hearing.

Commenting in a statement, IWGB United Private Hire Drivers branch chair and Uber case co-claimant Farrar said: “It’s two years since we beat Uber at the Employment Tribunal, yet minicab drivers all over the UK are still waiting for justice, while Uber exhausts endless appeals. As the government ignores this mounting crisis, it’s been left to workers to fix this broken system and bring rogue bosses to account. If anything gives me hope, it is the rising tide of precarious workers that are organising and demanding a fair deal.”

IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer Lee added: “Precarious workers are getting hammered in this country. The protest is the articulation of the legitimate grievance of those who are being denied the basic rights and dignities at work that we should all be able to take for granted.”

UK Uber drivers to stage 24 hour strike over pay and conditions

A UK union that represents the interests of Uber drivers has called a 24 hour strike for tomorrow. Ride-hailing giant Uber may not be comfortable thinking of the people who do the driving on its platform as workers but, in 2016, a UK employment tribunal ruled against its classification of a group of then current […]

A UK union that represents the interests of Uber drivers has called a 24 hour strike for tomorrow.

Ride-hailing giant Uber may not be comfortable thinking of the people who do the driving on its platform as workers but, in 2016, a UK employment tribunal ruled against its classification of a group of then current and former drivers as independent contractors after they brought a legal challenge; and again in 2017 when Uber lost its first appeal against the tribunal ruling.

Though Uber’s appeal continues.

Today one of the unions that campaigns on behalf of individuals providing labor on so-called ‘gig economy’ platforms, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), announced the strike action by Uber drivers.

It said Uber drivers are demanding an end to unfair deactivations (described by the union as ‘de facto dismissals’); an increase in fares to £2 per mile (vs the current rate of £1.25p/m in London); a 10% reduction in commissions paid by drivers to Uber (currently 25% for UberX); and calling for Uber to immediately apply the tribunal judgement and implement “employment conditions that respect worker rights for drivers, including the payment of at least the minimum wage and paid holidays”.

The union argues Uber drivers should be classified as Limb (b) workers under UK law, rather than ‘independent contractors’ as the company claims.

It’s asking Uber users to respect the strike and not use the app tomorrow.

The chair of the IWGB’s United Private Hire Drivers branch is James Farrar, who was one of the former Uber drivers who brought the 2016 tribunal action against the company.

Commenting in a statement he said: “After years of watching take home pay plummet and with management bullying of workers on the rise, workers have been left with no choice but to take strike action. We ask the public to please support drivers by not crossing the digital picket line by not using the app during strike time.”

The 24 hour strike will take place on October 9, from 1pm, in London, Birmingham and Nottingham.

The IWGB said participating drivers will stage protests outside Uber’s offices in all three cities at the start of the strike.

In a response statement emailed to TechCrunch an Uber spokesperson told us:

“We are always looking to make improvements to ensure drivers have the best possible experience and can make the most of their time driving on the app. That’s why over the last few months we’ve introduced dozens of new features, including sickness, injury, maternity and paternity protections. An academic study last month found that drivers in London make an average of £11 an hour, after accounting for all of their costs and Uber’s service fee. We continue to look at ways to help drivers increase their earnings and our door is always open if anyone wants to speak to us about any issues they’re having.”

A company spokesman also flagged up a number of changes Uber has made in the UK since the tribunal ruling, including expanding a free insurance product it offers to drivers and couriers including sickness, injury and maternity & paternity payments across Europe.

The spokesman also pointed to a number of other changes it’s made, such as to paid waiting times, in-app tipping, and discounted access to savings products such as pensions and free skills courses.

He also flagged Uber’s recent launch of a new driver app with real-time earnings tracking and access to data insights intended to help drivers boost their earnings; and a 24/7 telephone support line for drivers and passengers (which was actually a requirement of London’s transport regulator).

The company also says it has formalized how it listens to and responds to driver feedback in every city it operates in — albeit, not well enough to steer off this latest strike.

All the changes it flags might well be positive steps in terms of improving Uber drivers’ lot but if UK judges continue to find these folks should in fact be classified as workers Uber will find itself having to shell out a whole lot more money to keep operating in Europe.

The company has previously said that if it had to provide all the ~50,000 ‘self-employed’ Uber drivers on its platform in the UK with workers’ rights it would cost its business “tens of millions” of pounds.

Uber’s next appeal against the tribunal judgement will be heard later this month, on 30 and 31 October.