THE BLOG

TfL's Taxi For Uber Cuts To The Heart Of The Gig Economy

22/09/2017 16:09 BST | Updated 22/09/2017 17:23 BST
Reuters Photographer / Reuters
A photo illustration shows the Uber app logo displayed on a mobile telephone, as it is held up for a posed photograph in central London, Britain October 28, 2016. This logo has been updated and is no longer in use. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Illustration

Today is a big deal for gig economy workers and professional drivers across London - and it's making a splash on the global stage too. Transport for London has told Uber that it is "not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licence". TfL has warned of the potential public safety and security implications of the company's behaviour.

GMB has had a long running legal battle with Uber. Last year we won an historic employment tribunal ruling over worker's rights. Uber had tried to claim that the drivers were self-employed in order to avoid their legal, tax and pension responsibilities. We successfully argued at tribunal that Uber drivers are workers.

Our landmark legal victory means Uber drivers are entitled to basic rights like the minimum wage, paid rest breaks and holiday and sick pay. But Uber is so determined not to undermine their low cost business model that they refused to respect the ruling and decided to throw money at an appeal. That appeal is due to be heard next week.

In their latest round of legal troubles, Uber learnt today that Transport for London has refused them a new licence to operate in the city when their current one expires at the end of this month.

If Uber started playing by the rules in the countries in which they operate, they could certainly save a few quid on legal costs. Maybe that is what being a disruptor really means? Wasting money and ignoring the rules that keep us all safe.

GMB union organises and represents private hire drivers - thousands across the UK. And we want a level playing field for all drivers. That means being paid a decent wage and making sure passengers are safe - it doesn't mean working excessive hours or allowing exploitation to continue unchecked.

We're offering assistance to Uber drivers in the wake of this judgement and encourage them to get in touch - there are other companies out there who need drivers and who comply with regulations. The demand for taxis is still there. This is not about getting rid of jobs - it's about gaining decent ones and refusing to bow to a company's scare tactics.

This is what a real trade union does - tackling exploitative and taking on greedy gig economy employers. Not making excuses for them or parroting their PR lines.

The usual lines are already being trotted out by those who are ok with the low wage economy - that we are opposed to innovation and change. We hear it every time we try to tackle exploration in the gig and platform economy. We're not luddites or anti-technology - I'll take that head on.

This decision is of Uber's own making. They could comply with regulations. They could respect the courts. They could treat drivers properly. They could protect public safety. They choose not to. It's perfectly possible to run a taxi company - even through an app - without treating drivers poorly or cutting corners on safety

So, why should TfL allow Uber to get away with avoiding the rules just because they use an app to do business? This isn't about the type of technology, it's about the rights and responsibilities of a regulator - acting to enforce their obligation to protect us all.

Today's decision a self-inflicted wound by Uber who consistently try to avoid their responsibilities. It simply cannot be allowed carte blanche to do as it pleases - and it's learning the hard way. That's why we joined forces with consumer advocacy group SumOfUs to deliver a 100,000 strong petition calling on Uber to respect workers' rights or to get out of London.

TfL has actually taken the tough and right decision to pull Uber into line. That's what regulators are supposed to do. The Mayor of London's backing of the decision is hugely welcome, and shows how serious he is about building a fair and modern London that seeks to tackle the challenges people face in the 21st century working world. Let others follow that example.

GMB applaud the decision and we're going to keep campaigning to make sure gig economy employers do the right thing by workers and the people who use their services too - it's time other authorities and licensers took note. This shouldn't stop at the M25. And it won't.