THE BLOG

Our Uber Driver Victory Goes Straight To Heart Of The Gig Economy Epidemic

28/10/2016 14:35 | Updated 28 October 2016
Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

Today the courts ruled in favour of Uber drivers - rather than Uber the company - in what could be one of the biggest employment cases of the last decade.

The case - brought by my union GMB - focuses on the appalling employment practices of Uber. The result could impact on over 30,000 professional drivers, but it has far wider implications for work in the 21st century.

This case, the first of its kind to be brought against Uber in the UK, brings into question a model of employment that has exploded in the last five years. It gets straight to the heart of the gig economy epidemic of bogus self-employment. That epidemic cannot continue unchallenged and unchecked, where employment laws exist then every employer must be required to follow them.

By challenging Uber - asking the courts to decide whether Uber really are just a technology firm or simple an app as they would have us believe, or a company that employs workers - has the potential to change the working lives of hundreds of thousands of people and the nature of our economy in the next decade.

If you're reading this on Huffington Post, chances are you've used an app to get a service. Be it Uber, TaskRabbit or Deliveroo. It's easy. It's usually pretty cheap, convenient as well. But here's the problem: it's cheap for a reason.

More often than not, the companies behind service apps refuse to recognise their role and responsibilities as employers of their workers. They prefer to think of themselves as the facilitators of work rather than employers. For the workers that means no holiday pay, no maternity or paternity rights, no guaranteed minimum wage. It's zero hours contracts on speed, but not a new issue in and of itself. It's an age old problem of employers finding loopholes to drive down wages, terms and conditions while keeping their profit margins healthy. Instead of workers turning up to the docks or factory gates to find out if there is work, they now sit by the phone and wait for jobs to come in. It's old style exploitation but in the 21st century it's exerted by algorithms and mobile phones.

This is not about arguing against change - we'd be completely swimming against the tide - this is about a decent standard of life for people who are working incredibly hard but not making much. One Uber driver we spoke to - who was working exclusively for Uber - earned just over £5 an hour. That's not legal. Uber are making their hefty profits on the backs of their drivers. Where's the sick pay? The annual leave? The security of knowing that you'll get a decent wage?

The ruling today says that companies like Uber do have responsibilities. They can't just shrug their shoulders. No doubt they will appeal instead of facing up to their responsibilities, but an important victory was struck today that has the potential to impact on the world of work for years to come.

If you want to join us in not letting Uber off the hook, click here: www.gmb.org.uk/join.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS