On October 28 2016, a Central London Employment Tribunal case ruled Uber drivers are employees and not self-contracted workers. As Christina Colclough, UNI Global Union’s Senior Advisor on the future world of work explained to the media house Politico Europe in an interview, this ruling is a significant, much needed step along the way to stop the exploitation of workers. Colclough explains:
“Workers who are classified as self-employed have few, if any, social protection rights. This means that in most countries they have no holiday pay, sickness pay, education and training allowance, maternity/paternity leave rights and so forth. In addition, since these workers are classified as single-unit companies, Competition Law prevents them in allowing a union to collectively bargain for them. The landmark ruling in London determines what UNI has urged policymakers to do for quite some time now. Namely, grant all employees, in all forms of employment the same social and fundamental rights. The expected fluidity and flexibility that will characterise the future world of work must go hand in hand with strong social security. We need, deserve and demand decent jobs and fair conditions, and for this the world needs unions.”
Platforms, such as Uber, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Deliveroo, and many others, have utilised a regulatory gap that has permitted them to sweep in profits through their out-of-the-box business models. For example, Uber drivers – because Uber is not seen as a taxi company, and the drivers not as employees, but as private drivers – need not follow the same health and safety requirements, licensing or professional demands as the standard taxi drivers. This allows Uber to push down the prices, putting an unfair downward pressure on the wages, working conditions and market share of the regulated taxi business.
Colclough elaborates: “For many workers, platform income is a supplementary income that they feel forced to try to make. For others, platforms offer a source of income in a market where unemployment levels remain high. So let’s not blindly take the rising number of platform workers as a rubberstamp to this form of work.”
By redefining their own role as something other than an employer, platforms could circumvent labour laws, and get away with paying people way below the minimum wage. The London ruling stops this, and is hopefully the beginning to the end of these practices. UNI Global Union stresses that every company, in both the online and offline economy has an obligation to contribute through taxes and social costs to the societies in which they are embedded, and on which they depend.
Commenting on Wednesday’s employment tribunal decision on Uber, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“The GMB deserve huge credit for a shining light on conditions at Uber and winning this landmark action. This case has exposed the dark side of so-called ‘flexible’ labour. For many workers the gig economy is a rigged economy, where bosses can get out of paying the minimum wage and providing basics like paid holidays and rest breaks. What is happening at Uber is just the tip of the iceberg. Lots of people are now trapped in insecure jobs, with low pay and no voice at work.”
Philip Jennings, UNI Global Union’s General Secretary concludes: “On a global level we also celebrate GMB’s win, their persistence and support to the Uber drivers. Now Uber is rolling out its heavy machinery refuting the ruling, and trying to win Uber drivers over by calling them partners. We stand together, from the drivers in London and across the world. This ruling comes at a time where our world leaders are uniting to discuss the potentials and challenges of the future world of work. The Leadership Summit on November 15 is an important step on the way for a united global campaign for decent work, recognition and fairness for all workers.”