UberEats Under Pays

I rushed to get to the address I’d been given on time for the protest by UberEats delivery drivers, but arrived to find nobody there on Bermondsey St but two photographers I know who were wondering if they’d come to the right place. Eventually one or two protesters arrived but there was still no sign of the Uber riders. I walked into the yard where the Uber offices were and the security standing around outside there told us that the protest had been called off.

Of course I didn’t believe them. There wouldn’t be security hanging around in the yard unless there was going to be a protest.

Fortunately for once my phone still had some charge and I was able to find a video of them setting out from somewhere near Aldgate, and so we waited and waited and eventually saw the peloton coming around the corner from Tanner St.

Most of those taking part were delivery drivers, but there were also some supporters on bicycles, including a few I recognised. The drivers were being supported by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain – Couriers and Logistics branch, and also getting advice from other unions that are leading the fight against bogus self-employment and the ‘gig economy’.

Uber changed the way it pays drivers, having at first offered enough to make a living to entice people to come and work for it. Now the payment has changed, and drivers say they are working for as little as £3.22 per hour, less than half the minimum wage – and they have to provide and maintain the bikes they ride and pay insurance and  petrol.

Imran was one of the first to publicly complain about the terms, and he holds up his phone to show that his access to the Uber App which is how drivers get work has been blocked – effectively sacking him.

The drivers wanted to speak to the management but were not allowed into the office to do so. Eventually Uber agreed to let a small delegation in, and the drivers held a show of hands to do so. But when the small group went inside they found the managers were not prepared to speak to them as a group but wanted to pick on them one by one, and they walked out.

One picture that I missed was of one of the managers leaning out of the window and giving a sign to the drivers with his middle finer. He quickly moved inside when he saw he was being photographed and my picture was too blurred to be usable. A shame as I think it would have summed up perfectly the management attitude.

I left as the drivers were beginning to move off in small groups to picket outside some of the clients where other Uber drivers would be picking up orders across the evening, hoping to persuade the riders who came for them to join the strike – and join the union.

Uber’s contention that these riders are self-employed seems unlikely to be upheld in the courts, rather simply seen as a way for the company to evade its duties as an employer. They should be on a payroll, with national insurance contributions, pensions and proper rights as workers. And while there is a case for flexible contracts, these need to ones that give workers a living wage for the hours they are available to Uber. Existing labour laws may cover this, but if the courts fail to clarify this then new legislation is needed.

Uber is currently expanding its UberEats service to other UK cities, but the Financial Times recently reported it as having “a backlash from investors and employees” over “its ‘toxic’ culture, sexual harassment allegations and leadership issues2 and a legal battle over IP rights with Google.

More at UberEats couriers strike for Living Wage.


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