Uber drivers strike over pay issues and unfair dismissal claims

UK drivers employed by ride-hailing app Uber are staging a 24-hour national strike tomorrow (28 September) over the company’s failure to properly implement a Supreme Court decision, ongoing disputes about pay, and claims of unfair dismissal.

Members of the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU), who organised the strike, will hold demonstrations outside Uber offices in eight UK cities – London, Bristol, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow – and have urged passengers not to cross the digital picket line by using the service on the day of the action.

According to the ADCU, the industrial action was prompted by Uber’s failure to implement a Supreme Court ruling and pay drivers for waiting time, which it says makes up about 40% of an Uber driver’s working time.

In February 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that drivers should be classified as workers rather than self-employed individuals, giving Uber’s roughly 70,000 drivers the right to be paid the national minimum wage, to receive statutory minimum holiday pay and rest breaks, as well as protection from unlawful discrimination and whistleblowing

Although Uber announced in March that drivers would receive holiday pay, be automatically enrolled in a workplace pension scheme and earn at least the national living wage (£8.72 an hour), this was only applied to the time drivers are assigned to trips, rather than, as the Supreme Court explicitly ruled, from when they log in to the app.

“On the facts of the present case, a driver’s place of work is wherever his vehicle is currently located,” the court judgment said. “In the light of this case law, the tribunal was justified in finding that all time spent by a driver working under a worker’s contract with Uber London, including time spent ‘on duty’ logged onto the Uber app in London available to accept a trip request, is ‘working time’.”

Ahead of the strike, Yaseen Aslam, ADCU president and one of the main claimants in the Supreme Court case, said it was “shameful” that Uber continued to defy the court ruling.

“The drivers know they deserve, and are legally entitled to, much more than Uber is offering,” he said. “Uber’s offer to set up a cross app common pension scheme just proves that it must also be possible for these companies to apportion and pay driver waiting time between them. This strike is just the beginning and there will be much more unrest until Uber does the right thing and pays drivers all that they are owed, both pension contributions and working time.”

The ADCU further claims that Uber’s abandonment of variable fares, which were based on the time and distance travelled, in favour of fixed-price fares, has led to reduced driver incomes, and that Uber’s introduction of a “flawed” facial verification-based driver ID system has led to a large number of drivers being unfairly dismissed without the right of appeal.

To remedy the situation, the union is calling on Uber to meet three demands: to respect the Supreme Court ruling by paying for all working time, including time spent waiting; to increase fares from £1.25 per mile to £2 and reduce commission from 25% to 15%; and end unfair dismissals and withdraw its use of the Real-Time ID Check facial-verification system.

“Uber has continued to intensify its use of junk surveillance tech and algorithmic management control to maximize profits,” said ADCU general secretary James Farrar. “The results have been catastrophic, with hundreds of people unfairly dismissed and accused of unspecified ‘fraudulent activity’. Instead of trying to gag unions from exposing the flaws in their tech, Uber should instead guarantee all drivers protection from unfair dismissal and the right to access a proper, human-led appeals process.”

In a default judgment published on 14 April, the district court of Amsterdam (where Uber’s European headquarters is located) ordered Uber to reinstate six drivers with compensation after finding that they had been unlawfully dismissed for fraud by the app’s algorithm.

In mid-March 2021, the same court ordered Uber to give two drivers accused of “fraudulent activity” access to the data it had used to make the decisions, but found that there was enough human intervention to rule that its decisions were not completely automated.

In response to the strike, an Uber spokesperson said: “Following the historic trade union recognition deal with the union GMB, drivers have an even stronger voice within Uber. We are working together with our trade union partner to raise standards for drivers through greater transparency and engagement. The GMB represents drivers in areas such as earnings, deactivations and the implementation of new worker benefits, such as holiday pay and pensions.”

Uber and GMB signed a collective bargaining agreement on 26 May 2021, allowing the GMB to represent up to 70,000 UK Uber drivers in negotiations with the company on issues such as pensions and workplace safety. This was the first time Uber had recognised a union of its drivers anywhere in the world.

However, the agreement between Uber and the GMB does not allow collective bargaining over drivers’ earnings, including the firm’s implementation of the minimum wage.

In August 2021, following their first formal meeting since signing the agreement, Uber and the GMB committed to ending the exploitation of more than 200,000 UK drivers – a move that the ADCU and other unions condemned at the time as a public relations stunt.

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