Employment

Uber drivers fear workers rights changes will leave them ‘worse off’

Drivers will receive paid holidays, a guaranteed minimum wage and an entitlement to breaks, the firm has announced

gig economy uber

Uber drivers will now be treated as workers after the ride-hailing firm acted to boost rights following a Supreme Court ruling. Image credit: Dan Gold/Unsplash

Uber drivers will now be treated as workers in a landmark move that could signal a change to rights for gig economy workers – but staff have warned the changes might mean they are “worse off”.

The ride-hailing firm will offer 70,000 workers paid holidays, an entitlement to breaks and a guaranteed minimum wage with Uber confirming drivers will be paid the national living wage, currently £8.72 an hour, as an earnings floor with the potential to earn more.

The move comes after a four-year dispute between Uber and the GMB union ended in a Supreme Court ruling last month ordering the firm to treat employees as workers.

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Jamie Heywood, Uber regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, said: “This is an important day for drivers in the UK. Uber is just one part of a larger private-hire industry, so we hope that all other operators will join us in improving the quality of work for these important workers who are an essential part of our everyday lives.”

Uber lost four court cases since October 2016 over the treatment of drivers before making the change.

Former drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam – of the App Drivers and Couriers Union – were at the heart of the campaign to make the firm recognise drivers as workers rather than self-employed.

The pair welcomed Uber’s announcement but called the move “a day late and a dollar short” and warned the new terms only apply to the time drivers spend transporting passengers to their destinations rather than during their entire working hours.

Farrar and Aslam said in a statement that the new policy means “Uber drivers will still be shortchanged to the tune of 40 to 50 per cent”.

Daniel McNeil, who has worked for Uber for two years as a driver and cyclist around Glasgow, told The Big Issue: “I can only speculate at the moment but, for me personally, I earn enough to pay tax, so when self employed I can claim back some of my fuel expense. However, as an employee, I can no longer do that.

“However, holiday pay is a benefit to being an employee, it’s possible the holiday pay would be enough to cover the loss of tax credit but it’s likely I’ll be slightly worse off.

“Although for balance, it is possible other staff might be better off.”

I think workers rights are important, but the gig economy allows people to be flexible with when they work

Daniel insisted the firm should look to pay drivers fuel expenses and cover business insurance to stop drivers from being hit by the changes.

But while the move has been hailed as a landmark moment to bolster rights for gig economy workers – potentially affecting the 5.5 million people who work in the sector in the UK according to auditor KPMG – the 21-year-old Uber driver is unsure whether bringing more rights into the sector will be a positive step.

Daniel added: “I think workers rights are important, but the gig economy allows people to be flexible with when they work. The more restrictive the rules on the gig economy, the less flexible the workers can be.

“I’ve worked in the gig economy my entire time at university, without it I probably wouldn’t have a job, so it’s beneficial to me. However for people who work in the gig economy as a career instead of part time/short term or as a second job, they would probably welcome more workers rights.”

The shift towards strengthening worker rights in the gig economy sector spells “the end for bogus self employment” according to GMB national officer Mick Rix.

He said: “Uber had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing, but finally they’ve agreed to follow the ruling of the courts and treat their drivers as workers. Other gig economy companies should take note.”

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News he “welcomed” the move and signalled that the UK Government “wants to see a well-paid workforce with strong worker protections.”

Andy McDonald, Labour’s Shadow Employment Rights and Protections Secretary, called on Kwarteng to back up his words. “The Government need to urgently introduce legislation to clarify the position of all gig economy workers,” he said.

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