HR · 19 July 2016

Union fights for “basic workers’ rights” British Uber drivers are being denied

Uber booking
Uber has been in the UK since 2012, with the 20 million rides made in the first three years

Private hire drivers union GMB is taking on the might of global taxi booking platform Uber through a series of tribunals, aiming to secure drivers’ rights as workers and not self-employed.

GMB has determined that Uber, which was valued at over $60bn after its fundraising round at the turn of the year, is “unlawfully denying their drivers fundamental rights”. It believes drivers who operate under the Uber banner should be eligible to receive holiday pay and a guaranteed minimum wage.

Uber’s growth, both in the UK and around the world, has been driven on-boarding drivers quickly through a self-employment process. However, recent cuts to fares and an abundance of new drivers means GMB is pressing for a better deal.

Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary, believes it is all part of a “growing and pernicious” practice by companies that are wrongly claiming workers are self-employed.

“Uber drivers face very difficult working conditions and with cuts to fares we believe that some of our members are taking home less than the national minimum wage when you take into account the costs of running a car,” he added.

“Uber is a multinational, multibillion dollar company and GMB believes they are unlawfully denying their drivers fundamental rights which are designed to ensure workers can enjoy a minimum standard of living.”

While Uber, which was founded by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp in 2009, has faced scrutiny from the likes of Transport for London regarding its perceived lack of regulation relating to how it operates, this is the first time that the company will have faced legal action in the UK over whether drivers are workers or self-employed.

Through two cases, brought by law firm Leigh Day at the Central London Employment Tribunal on 20 July, GMB hopes it will impact on a further 17 claims that have been levied against Uber. Adding fuel to the fire, lawyers representing drivers also claim that Uber acts “unlawfully” by debuting sums from drivers’ pay – sometimes when customers make complaints.

Annie Powell, a lawyer in the employment team at Leigh Day, commented: “Uber currently denies that its drivers are entitled to the most basic of workers’ rights. Uber’s defence is that it is just a technology company, not a taxi company, and that Uber drivers do not work for Uber but instead work for themselves as self-employed business men and women.

“We will argue that Uber exerts significant control over its drivers in order to provide an on-demand taxi service to the public. If Uber wishes to operate in this way, and to reap the substantial benefits, then it must acknowledge its responsibilities towards those drivers as workers.”

Powell believes the new claims are “vital” for the thousands of British Uber driver as the nation experiences a “creeping erosion” of employment rights.

At the beginning of 2016, black taxi drivers in London brought the capital to a standstill following Transport for London’s decision to adopt light touch regulation to Uber – including dropping a requirement for private hire vehicle operators to wait at least five minutes between rides.

Find out why ONS research has debunked the myth that self-employed workers are labour market victims.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Hunter Ruthven is the editor of Business Advice. He is also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs. Alongside this, he is part of the team that hosts the Growing Business Awards, First Women Awards and Future 50 initiative. Prior to his role at Real Business, he was editor at competitor website Growth Business and head reporter at M&A Deals. Throughout his career he has interviewed leading entrepreneurs including Alex Chesterman, Lopo Champalimaud, Sarah Wood, James Averdeick and Alex Saint.

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