THE LARGE taxi app company Uber announced yesterday it would start treating over 70,000 of its drivers in the UK as employed workers entitled to benefits such as holiday pay and pensions and the National Living Wage.
The climb down by the ride-hailing giant, which has always insisted that drivers were ‘self-employed’ contractors, follows the ruling in the Supreme Court last month which upheld previous decisions in the courts and employment tribunals that Uber drivers were employed as workers not as third party contractors.
For over four years, workers have been embroiled in lengthy legal cases against Uber. At every stage Uber lost the case and immediately engaged in lengthy appeals to try and avoid recognising its drivers as employees and not disposable individuals who can be sacked at will or have their wages ‘sanctioned’ for any reason.
The stakes for Uber and all the other gig economy employers like Deliveroo and all the other taxi driving and delivery operators couldn’t be higher.
Mick Rix, leader of the GMB union, said: ‘Other gig economy companies should take note – this is the end of the road for bogus self-employment.’
TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said after Uber’s decision that it ‘appears to be a big step in the right direction.’
She added: ‘Now the company must recognise trade unions. The TUC stands ready to host talks with Uber and private hire unions to begin that process.’
Even as Uber caved in, it still found a way to cut wages of its drivers.
James Farrar, head of the independent App Drivers and Couriers Union (ACDU) which has led the fight against Uber, welcomed the decision to commit to paying minimum wage, holiday pay and pensions but he noted ‘that they have arrived to the table with this offer a day late and a dollar short, literally.’
Uber is insisting that minimum wages and holiday pay will only start from when a fare is accepted, and ends when the passenger is dropped off, and not the whole time drivers are logged on to its app, as the Supreme Court ruled.
Farrar said: ‘This means about 40-50% of your working time is still not being paid or protected, even though the law requires it does.’
O’Grady picked up this point when she told BBC Radio yesterday that Uber was attempting to ‘cherry pick’ from a Supreme Court ruling ‘in the new worker rights for drivers’.
This was, she said, ‘the 21st century equivalent of workers being held at the factory gate bidding for work. It’s not acceptable in a modern economy … Gig workers deserve to be treated with dignity and get the same basic rights as everyone else.’
In fact this is entirely acceptable as far as the bosses are concerned. Driving the working class back to conditions of the 19th century when workers had no rights and had to beg for work is precisely what bankrupt British capitalism is determined to do.
The Uber climb down is undoubtedly a huge victory for the drivers, a victory won by their tenacity and determination, and a blow to the gig employers.
But what is clear is that the working class cannot rely on the courts and capitalist law to defend its rights.
The gig economy is not just confined to the likes of Uber and Deliveroo but has been pushed out throughout the entire economy.
The court judgements are undoubtedly a victory for workers and a blow to the gig economy but employment laws can be thrown out the window by the Tories, while the latest assault on workers’ wages and conditions, the perfectly legal ‘fire and rehire’, is spreading like wildfire throughout industry.
With wage cutting and mass unemployment looming as British capitalism collapses into depression, it must be stated again, the working class cannot rely on the courts and capitalist law to defend it.
The working class must take independent action by demanding that the TUC call a general strike to kick out the Tories and go forward to a workers government that will expropriate the bosses and bankers and bring in a socialist planned economy where every worker will be guaranteed a secure job with decent pay.