Union demands better deal for app drivers as Uber license renewal looms

Mayor urged to enforce UK Supreme Court ruling

Updated Gig workers have urged London Mayor Sadiq Khan to force Uber to give its app drivers a better deal on pay as the ride-hailing biz seeks to renew its license to operate in the British capital.

The App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) wants Mayor Khan to enforce a UK Supreme Court finding that Uber drivers are workers and not self-employed contractors.

As workers, the app-hailed drivers are entitled to at least minimum wage and paid holidays, the union said. It went on to claim that due to the way Uber pays drivers, it doesn't meet minimum wage, and drivers should therefore get more money.

Now that Uber's license is set to expire on March 27 in London, the ADCU said the city's mayor has the chance to force the American giant to comply with the court's ruling, and pay drivers more as workers, if it wants to continue operating in the Big Smoke.

"We've led the fight for worker rights for six years and won the argument in the highest court in the land," Yaseen Aslam, ADCU President and co-lead claimant in the Supreme Court case, said in a statement this week.

"Now it is the mayor's turn to do his bit to ensure the law is enforced and that Uber drivers are treated with dignity and respect at work. Londoners want cheap fares but they expect the mayor to ensure nobody is exploited in a [Transport for London] licensed and regulated trade."

Aslam and ADCU general secretary James Farrar said Khan should tell Uber to reimburse workers 90p per mile for the purposes of minimum wage calculation instead of the 45p it pays today. Inflation and a hike in energy prices has led to a near 30 percent increase in vehicle and fuel costs, and Uber must therefore cough up more to cover these expenses, the pair argued in an open letter [PDF] to the mayor.

The ADCU noted in a statement: "Uber is charging a fuel surcharge on fares in the US and elsewhere but has chosen not to in the UK despite workers being particularly badly hit by the cost of living crisis here."

The pair also slammed the ride-hailing service for paying workers only when they're actively driving to pick up and drop off passengers. Drivers should be compensated for all hours accrued from the moment they log on and off the app, they argued. Uber short-changes workers out of pay for around 50 percent of their true working time as a result, they claimed.

The hours issue and per-mile reimbursement leaves drivers potentially below minimum wage, according to the union.

"With a stroke of a pen, Sadiq Khan has the power to end years of hardship and suffering for Uber drivers by now offering Uber the very simple but stark choice of either respecting worker rights and complying with the law in full or immediately exit the London market," Farrar said.

The UK Supreme Court ruling in 2021 only applied to a limited number of individuals in that specific case. Alex Wood, a sociologist studying work and employment, previously told the BBC that drivers had to take Uber to the employment tribunal if they wanted the same rights too.

The Register has asked Uber for comment. ®

Updated to add

Post-publication an Uber spokesperson said the app maker offers a decent compensation package.

"All drivers on Uber are guaranteed at least the national living wage, holiday pay and a pension plan, as well as free sickness protection," they said.

"This means drivers earn with greater security, helping them to plan for their futures while maintaining the flexibility that is integral to the private-hire industry. We are not the only player in town and so far no other operator provides drivers with these full worker protections."

Editor's note: This story was revised to clarify that the UK Supreme Court ruled that Uber app drivers are specifically workers as opposed to employees or self-employed contractors. There is a difference between worker and employee in Britain.

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