The GMB Union is suing online taxi service Uber claiming it is not providing basic workers’ rights to its drivers, such as holidays and a minimum wage. It also claims the company doesn’t adhere to health and safety standards, including making sure drivers take a break or work a maximum number of hours per week.
Of course Uber has already countered, claiming that its drivers are independent contractors – essentially like freelancers – rather than employees. However this position has been successfully challenged. In June, the California Labor Commissioner ruled that an Uber driver should be considered an employee. Uber is currently appealing the decision.
Because Uber won’t talk directly to the GMB, the union claims it has been necessary to go through with “a more serious case,” according to Steve Garelick, branch secretary of the GMB professional drivers’ branch. He told the FT it had been approached “by various [Uber] drivers who were not happy with their lot in life”.
However Uber flatly denies the union’s claims : “One of the main reasons drivers use Uber is because they love being their own boss. 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.”
GMB is going ahead with the action through employment lawyer Nigel Mackay of Leigh Day and is representing a number of drivers. Mackay claims Uber exerts “quite a lot of control over how the drivers do their jobs” including the routes they are told to follow and the prices they are allowed to charge.
This meant they should be classed as “workers” rather than self-employed contractors, entitling them to basic rights such as the minimum wage and holiday pay but not the same protections as employees. “You can have workers engaged flexibly, but they are workers, and they’re still entitled to basic rights,” he said.
The GMB union and Leigh Day say that any successful legal action “could see substantial pay outs for drivers, including compensation for past failures by the company to make appropriate payments to who we argue are their workers.”
Meanwhile Uber faces legal action about the validity of its offerings across Europe while The London Taxi Drivers Association, which represents the capital’s black cabs, has taken Uber to court alleging that the use of smartphones to log journeys flouts regulations.