UK Uber drivers to stage 24 hour strike over pay and conditions

A UK union that represents the interests of Uber drivers has called a 24 hour strike for tomorrow.

Ride-hailing giant Uber may not be comfortable thinking of the people who do the driving on its platform as workers but, in 2016, a UK employment tribunal ruled against its classification of a group of then current and former drivers as independent contractors after they brought a legal challenge; and again in 2017 when Uber lost its first appeal against the tribunal ruling.

Though Uber’s appeal continues.

Today one of the unions that campaigns on behalf of individuals providing labor on so-called ‘gig economy’ platforms, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), announced the strike action by Uber drivers.

It said Uber drivers are demanding an end to unfair deactivations (described by the union as ‘de facto dismissals’); an increase in fares to £2 per mile (vs the current rate of £1.25p/m in London); a 10% reduction in commissions paid by drivers to Uber (currently 25% for UberX); and calling for Uber to immediately apply the tribunal judgement and implement “employment conditions that respect worker rights for drivers, including the payment of at least the minimum wage and paid holidays”.

The union argues Uber drivers should be classified as Limb (b) workers under UK law, rather than ‘independent contractors’ as the company claims.

It’s asking Uber users to respect the strike and not use the app tomorrow.

The chair of the IWGB’s United Private Hire Drivers branch is James Farrar, who was one of the former Uber drivers who brought the 2016 tribunal action against the company.

Commenting in a statement he said: “After years of watching take home pay plummet and with management bullying of workers on the rise, workers have been left with no choice but to take strike action. We ask the public to please support drivers by not crossing the digital picket line by not using the app during strike time.”

The 24 hour strike will take place on October 9, from 1pm, in London, Birmingham and Nottingham.

The IWGB said participating drivers will stage protests outside Uber’s offices in all three cities at the start of the strike.

In a response statement emailed to TechCrunch an Uber spokesperson told us:

“We are always looking to make improvements to ensure drivers have the best possible experience and can make the most of their time driving on the app. That’s why over the last few months we’ve introduced dozens of new features, including sickness, injury, maternity and paternity protections. An academic study last month found that drivers in London make an average of £11 an hour, after accounting for all of their costs and Uber’s service fee. We continue to look at ways to help drivers increase their earnings and our door is always open if anyone wants to speak to us about any issues they’re having.”

A company spokesman also flagged up a number of changes Uber has made in the UK since the tribunal ruling, including expanding a free insurance product it offers to drivers and couriers including sickness, injury and maternity & paternity payments across Europe.

The spokesman also pointed to a number of other changes it’s made, such as to paid waiting times, in-app tipping, and discounted access to savings products such as pensions and free skills courses.

He also flagged Uber’s recent launch of a new driver app with real-time earnings tracking and access to data insights intended to help drivers boost their earnings; and a 24/7 telephone support line for drivers and passengers (which was actually a requirement of London’s transport regulator).

The company also says it has formalized how it listens to and responds to driver feedback in every city it operates in — albeit, not well enough to steer off this latest strike.

All the changes it flags might well be positive steps in terms of improving Uber drivers’ lot but if UK judges continue to find these folks should in fact be classified as workers Uber will find itself having to shell out a whole lot more money to keep operating in Europe.

The company has previously said that if it had to provide all the ~50,000 ‘self-employed’ Uber drivers on its platform in the UK with workers’ rights it would cost its business “tens of millions” of pounds.

Uber’s next appeal against the tribunal judgement will be heard later this month, on 30 and 31 October.