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Uber under pressure in UK to provide workers' rights

Uber is under a lot of pressure worldwide, with a growing resentment for the way the San Francisco-based ride-sharing app pays workers.

Despite an overwhelming amount of taxi drivers giving up their normal job to join Uber (opens in new tab), there seems to be issues with the way Uber classifies its workers. Under the current system, drivers are contractors, paid by Uber for however many hours they put in. Uber takes a 20 per cent cut, and the driver is free to do two or twenty hours per day.

For some taxi drivers it sounds like a swell deal, compared to some taxi firms that force drivers to work at unconventional times that don’t work around family or friends. Being a contractor does mean the driver is not entitled to some of the benefits regular taxi drivers receive, like paid leave or minimum wage.

GMB, a general trade union, is challenging Uber’s workers’ rights. Using law firm Leigh Day, it has filed a lawsuit against Uber pushing for the company to accept new workers’ rights and install them across the UK.

“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,” said Leigh Day solicitor Nigel Mackay. “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.”

The second demand could be added quickly and without much change to the system. Uber could calculate the average earnings of the driver and give them the same paid leave a normal company would provide.

The first demand is a bit more questionable, since Uber allows the driver to do as much or as little work as they want. This makes it hard for Uber to promise minimum wage for all drivers, since some clocking in 18 hours on a shift might spend a few hours waiting for a ride.

“One of the main reasons drivers use Uber is because they love being their own boss,” said an Uber spokesperson. “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.”

Uber will no doubt face more lawsuits in the future from UK firms, as it expands. The app is already available in London, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Bristol (opens in new tab), and Newcastle and has over 25,000 drivers active in the country.

The UK is not the only place Uber is fighting battles. In South Korea, the taxi service remains banned; in China, the government is considering a ban (opens in new tab), in India, the company continues to face issues with rape allegations (opens in new tab) and payments (opens in new tab); in California, workers want to be employees and not contractors (opens in new tab); in Canada, a £250 million lawsuit has been started against the company (opens in new tab) and in France, UberPOP was banned after protests in Paris (opens in new tab).

David has been a technology journalist for over six years, covering a wide range of sectors. He currently researches apps, app sectors and app markets for Business of Apps, and has written for ITProPortal, RTInsights, ReadWrite, and Digital Trends.