Uber says it will change the exploitative model in the UK
Under normal circumstances, any company that makes a bombastic statement that it will partially abide by a court decision will be met with a chorus of derision.
However, Uber’s announcement on March 16, 2021, that it would treat its drivers in the UK as ‘workers’, albeit with qualifications, was met with a mixture of disbelief, hope and disdain.
This is because, for more than a decade, Uber, the epitome of Silicon Valley exceptionalism, has deployed its public relations lobby machine to protect its exploitative business model based on the classification of drivers as self-employed.
The company’s sudden U-turn in the UK represents a significant shift in position, marking a potential turning point for transport companies. Does this spell the end of Uber’s predatory employment model and make you a good corporate citizen? Absolutely not, but context is everything.
Earlier this year, the UK Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a group of Uber drivers were employed rather than self-employed. In doing so, the Supreme Court dismissed Uber’s appeal against the lower court decisions, thus ending a five-year legal battle.
Worker status under English law is a form of self-employment, but it guarantees basic rights such as minimum wage, vacation pay, and protection against discrimination. Fundamentally, this category of intermediate employment also unlocks fundamental union rights.
The Court concluded that no amount of twisted contract language that describes drivers as ‘self-employed’ should undermine the purpose of the labor law, that is, to protect vulnerable workers who have little or no bargaining power over a controlling entity. about your work. It also confirmed that such legislation excludes employers in a stronger bargaining position from outsourcing these protections.
Uber’s initial reaction to the trial was predictable
Uber dismissed the importance of the case, saying it only applied to a “small group of drivers” despite thousands of other drivers awaiting their day in court pending sentencing.
However, within three weeks, Uber said it would treat all UK drivers as workers and pay them the national minimum wage, pensions and holidays. By reading the fine print, it became clear that they were not going to pay the drivers in accordance with the sentence.
The Supreme Court had ruled that a driver must be paid for as long as he is logged into the app and available to make reservations. However, Uber will only pay drivers once they have accepted a ride, leaving some with a 40-50 percent difference.
Challenging the false dichotomy ‘flexibility vs rights’
Looking at the Uber announcement from a global perspective, dismantling the ‘flexibility vs rights’ argument is a real game changer.
For years, Uber has spread the myth that there is a trade-off between the ability to work flexible hours and job protection. This, of course, is a false dichotomy. Labor rights do not mean the loss of flexibility.
Also, live work doesn’t really provide full schedule flexibility when considering price increases and passenger trends. Yet this theory held Uber’s entire PR strategy together. So it was a sea change for Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to admit that ‘UK drivers will now be able to win more safely, helping them plan for their future while maintaining the flexibility that is integral to the private rental industry. ».
Worker status in the UK provides access to trade union rights, paving the way for drivers to engage in collective bargaining.
Considering Uber’s aversion to independent unions, this is a big problem. Uber drivers now also have the right to be accompanied to disciplinary and complaint hearings and legal protection for complaints. They will also get legal protection for workplace accidents. While Uber has spent years trying to avoid liability for these fundamental rights, its sudden U-turn in the UK has implications beyond the UK.
The Supreme Court forced Uber to change its business model, but this is not a fact
When the legislature of California passed Assembly Bill 5 (AB-5), which made it difficult to misclassify workers, Uber along with other digital labor platforms launched the Proposition 22 plebiscite which was ultimately successful in reversing the law.
Among other things, these workers now earn much less than AB-5 employees and at the same time cannot enjoy the ability to set rates as true self-employed. Proposition 22 has also allowed platforms to play with the system to deny workers even the partial benefits available under the scheme.
On FranceAfter the Supreme Court ruled that an Uber driver was an employee in 2020, Uber did nothing to change its employment practices.
When the Cantonal Court of Geneva He argued that UberEats was a recruitment agency and had to employ its passengers, Uber created an outside company to hire the passengers, thus outsourcing its labor obligations. There is a long list of similar examples from other jurisdictions where Uber has ignored regulations and court decisions.
In this context, Uber’s move in the UK is undeniably significant despite the fact that it continues to break the law by failing to pay drivers in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling.
Uber’s definition of work time will plague global policy debates for months and years to come. No company should be allowed to choose which parts of the law apply. Additionally, Uber has been suspiciously silent on voluntary union recognition.
The fact that they have unilaterally developed a formula for calculating the minimum wage shows why good faith bargaining is essential to give workers a voice on terms and conditions.
The road ahead
Beyond the status of drivers and workers, Uber has not extended employment protections to riders on its UberEats platform in the UK.
Riders have already been classified as employees in various jurisdictions and Spain has even passed a law that presumes the job status of the delivery man.
Even if there was a discussion about additional competition and multiple application in the food delivery sector, these issues can easily be negotiated at the negotiating table. Not to mention, the whole multi-app phenomenon can even become redundant once workers can earn a fair wage on a single platform.
Uber also continues to ignore several key worker issues, including its oppressive arbitration clause, use of algorithmic decision-making, and lack of transparency around worker data.
Perhaps most troubling is how Uber will use its decision on UK worker status to push for a third category of employment beyond the US.
Uber’s cynical trick
Although the UK framework confers many employment rights, it does not incur the same labor costs as full-fledged employee status (interestingly, the Supreme Court decision does not preclude a determination of employee status, but more will be required. litigation to cross that hurdle).
Uber already claims that the UK’s ‘worker’ status supports its advocacy of an independent contractor plus (IC +) model of self-employment with limited social protections (although until a few weeks ago they claimed otherwise).
Of course, this is another cynical PR stunt because ‘worker’ status in the UK is nothing like IC + as it grants employment, work, healthcare and safety rights in addition to social protections.
Just two weeks ago, Uber disguised IC + as Flexible Work + in Canada, which the Canadian Labor Congress described as “dangerous, undermining and offensive to the rights and dignity of workers.”
Uber is also promoting Proposition 22-style standards in Europe in light of the European Union’s plans to improve working conditions at rig work.
Another tactic by Uber is its defense of ‘sectoral bargaining’, which actually has nothing to do with sectoral collective bargaining in the strict sense of the term. Under Uber’s model, misclassified workers will be forced to negotiate from scratch to meet legal minimums.
Additionally, Uber has been notably silent on the identity of the negotiating partners and the scope of the negotiation. Uber embellishes the concept of sectoral bargaining for public relations purposes.
What this cat and mouse game with Uber highlights most broadly is the growing imbalance between capital and labor.
Strategic litigation will always be necessary and it is encouraging to see lawsuits being prepared against Uber in Kenya, South Africa and New Zealand, among other places. However, it is also sobering to think of the significant resistance these plaintiffs will face in their legal battles.
The value of the employment relationship depreciates significantly when the underlying labor market institutions, including inspections, the legal system, and collective bargaining mechanisms, are inadequate.
Governments must invest in these institutions, remove fraudulent classifications, and reform competition law to allow all workers to enjoy the human right to collective bargaining, including the corollary right to strike.
The labor situation is the gateway to labor rights. In itself, the employment situation is meaningless if the rights that accompany it are not properly enforced.
The fact is that more than 60 per cent of the world’s employed population is in the informal economy and non-standard forms of employment continue to proliferate.
Is it time to leave behind the traditional framework of industrial relations?
There is no tension in defending the continued relevance of the employment relationship as a means of providing legal protection to workers, while recognizing the need for all workers to enjoy fundamental rights through a universal labor guarantee.
In this sense, concepts such as the ‘personal employment relationship’, which attempts to capture a wide range of work situations for the purposes of labor protection, should be seriously considered by policy makers.
Digital job platforms do not deserve or require special treatment.
We must expose the fallacy of technodeterminism and build a new social contract based on respect for workers’ rights and the rule of law.
Uber says it will change the exploitative model in the UK