New Zealand Uber drivers begin collective bargaining for first time

Uber drivers in New Zealand will be pushing for better pay and working conditions through their first-ever collective agreement with the company.

Earlier this week, national trade union First Union initiated collective bargaining with Uber. According to New Zealand employment law, if a party receives a notice to initiate bargaining, they are required to enter. A period of preparation on both sides will ensue before the parties come to the table to negotiate.

The initiation of collective bargaining represents the first time Uber would have to work constructively with drivers to reach an agreement on pay and conditions since the ride-hail company arrived in New Zealand in 2014.

More than 500 drivers joined the union after the country’s Employment Court last year ruled that four Uber drivers were employees, not contractors, and Anita Rosentreter, strategic project coordinator at First Union, said more are joining every day. The landmark court case granted those workers rights and protections, including minimum wage, guaranteed hours, sick leave, holiday pay, KiwiSaver (superannuation) contributions, the right to challenge an unfair dismissal and the right to unionize and collectively bargain.

While the ruling only affected the four drivers in the class action lawsuit against Uber, it set a precedent for defining employee status in the country based on how much control a company has over workers.

At the time, the court ruled that Uber’s incentive schemes to reward consistency and quality and punishments for breaches of Uber’s Guidelines or slips in quality levels demonstrated significant control.

Uber lodged an appeal against the decision, which will be heard in April.

“We were disappointed by the Employment Court’s recent decision, particularly considering the same Court in 2020 ruled a rideshare driver using the Uber app was not an employee, and have applied for leave to appeal which will be heard in April,” said Emma Foley, general manager for Uber New Zealand, in a statement. “This ruling underscores the need for industry-wide minimum standards for on-demand work, while preserving the flexibility and autonomy that drivers tell us is important to them.”

Foley said Uber would work collaboratively with the industry and the government throughout “the contractor policy reform process.”