Monday, October 31, 2016

English Uber drivers get a big win

Uber just got out of court. Again. This time the case was in England, and, this time, Uber lost. In a battle against their own employees, Uber was instructed to make sure British Uber drivers not only make at least the standard minimum wage but also qualify for paid leave and other benefits.

According to the ruling, Uber drivers are not simply “self-employed contractors” they are “workers.” This designation not only dealt a major setback to Uber’s attempts to keep its drivers at arm’s length legally but also set a precedent for legal proceedings that could affect other arrangements with drivers in other countries.

Speaking to CNN, a spokesman for the labor group that represented the drivers in the case, telegraphed this hope for unilateral changes in how Uber treats its stable of drivers globally. “This is a monumental victory that will have a hugely positive impact on over 30,000 drivers in London and across England and Wales and for thousands more in other industries where bogus self-employment is rife…” Maria Ludkin said.

This ruling opens up the possibility for drivers to appeal for back pay as well as other employee benefits going forward.

While Ludkin was speaking directly about Britain’s issues with contract versus employee labor, her comments did not fall on deaf ears in other nations where Uber operates.

Uber’s argument, in both the U.K. as well as the United States pretends they are thinking of their drivers in keeping them as contractors and not employees. This argument was articulated specifically by Uber U.K.'s Jo Bertram, who said, “Tens of thousands of people in London drive with Uber precisely because they want to be self-employed and their own boss. The overwhelming majority of drivers who use the Uber app want to keep the freedom and flexibility of being able to drive when and where they want…”

There’s a naked threat implicit in that statement. If Uber is forced to give drivers benefits they will have more expectations – read: requirements – for their stable of workers. This could mean a loss of “freedom” for drivers. How that would happen and the shape of that threat in application isn’t so clear. How will Uber continue to recruit drivers if they ladle on extra regulations and requirements? So far, no specifics have been delivered, but the threat hangs over any future negotiations as both Uber and the drivers try to come to a mutually acceptable agreement on these issues.

David Milberg is an financial analyst in NYC.

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