One of the biggest gig economy firms, Uber, lost its final appeal against a 2016 Employment Tribunal judgement that its drivers are workers and therefore should be entitled to holiday and sick pay, pay bargaining and other workers’ rights.
Uber’s disruptive and often illegal activities to exploit drivers, bankrupt any competition to create a private monopoly, and drive down drivers’ earnings also relies on bullying taxi regulators with its huge financial muscle.
Uber entered the London market in 2013, when Boris Johnson was London Mayor. Johnson took no action against Uber, being totally at one with its modus operandi- to super exploit its drivers, initiating a race to the bottom in the private hire and taxi trade. Many drivers must pay over 30% commission on already low fares. It’s estimated by some reports that nearly 40% of Uber drivers need to claim income support to pay the rent and feed their families.
Uber pays no taxes in the UK. It is registered in the Netherlands, a low tax country. It also pays no VAT on its fares. It was recently caught red handed in London using “greyball” technology to avoid TfL on street vehicle inspections. TfL then refused to renew its operator’s licence and at present it only operates on a temporary licence granted on appeal.
Uber is funded partly by middle eastern sovereign hedge funds; the Saudi Arabia Sovereign Wealth Fund recently invested $3.5 billion and the Qatar Investment Authority also has significant investments. Other billionaire hedge funds such as Morgan Stanley and SB Investment, a subsidiary of SoftBank are also shareholders.
Yet Uber has never made a single penny in operating profit. It has been likened to a massive Ponzi scheme by some commentators, promising more and more fantastical profitable schemes at some future date, which never actually materialises.
In 2018 the Unite Policy Conference passed a unanimous motion calling amongst other things for Unite to campaign for:
“New tech companies to pay appropriate levels of tax in the countries in which they operate & further call for changes in labour law to outlaw bogus self -employment.” The motion called these App platforms “new sweatshops on wheels”.
There are over 5 million self-employed workers. Many are young workers forced into the gig economy (when I was young a gig was an enjoyable event!) by a lack of decent, well-paid, unionised jobs.
This ruling is a massive step forward for all workers, but mainly young workers, being exploited in many sectors of the economy. Pimlico Plumbers were also appealing a similar decision as were other large Private Hire operators.
Most drivers working in the PH trade are in no organisation, a few are in recognised trade unions and others in independent non -TUC pop-up unions. This judgement should give confidence for all workers being exploited by bogus self- employment to organise for their rights. Uber drivers have already taken some direct actions outside Uber HQ in Whitechapel and elsewhere.
Steve Turner, Unite AGS and UL GS candidate, successfully fought alongside Francis O’Grady (General Secretary TUC) for the self- employed to be included in the self-employed Furlough scheme.
Steve tweeted his congratulations and commented:
“This is a fantastic victory and should inspire workers across our economy from platform and construction workers to delivery drivers to organise, be confident and join your union to win the fight to end forced and bogus self-employment”.
“Together we can win the demand for day one rights for all, rebuild collective bargaining and win a rate for the job – defeating an employer-forced ‘race to the bottom‘ – alongside hours, sick pay, holidays and conditions that put fairness, respect and dignity back at the heart of work”.