Can the firm keep its prices below market average while giving its workers a fair deal?by Clive Lewis / November 3, 2016 / Leave a comment
Scandals such as that seen at Sports Direct have made it popular to lament a return of “Victorian employment practices” in modern Britain.
One commonly cited example received a blow last week, when an employment tribunal ruled that drivers for app-based minicab company Uber could not be classed as self-employed. The case was brought by the GMB union, which argued that categorising drivers in this way served to deny them fundamental rights.
Jo Bertram, Uber’s manager in the UK, has claimed that the self-employed status of its drivers grants these workers “freedom.” Instead of the grind of a nine to five, Uber drivers have the choice of when to work and for how long, and the ability to make extra money alongside a second job, or to more easily juggle work with other responsibilities, such as childcare.
In the run up to the verdict, news producers across the country were able to find contented Uber drivers, eager to expound the virtues of this new style of working. This vocal minority may have made for seemingly balanced TV, but they are far from representative.
The Tribunal ruled that the categorisation of Uber drivers as self-employed was bogus, and highlighted the miserable conditions endured by many of them. In a country where the minimum hourly wage is £7.20 for those over the age of 25, one Uber driver earned a pitiful £5.03. There have been horror stories of drivers being unable to take toilet breaks, or stop to eat. If Uber brings freedoms, for most they have come at the price of dignity.
We should not underestimate the significance of the tribunal’s ruling for both employers and employees within the gig economy.
In the short-term, the ruling will have a dramatic impact on Uber and their 30,000 drivers. The firm may now have to top up the earnings, potentially including back pay, not just of the drivers who appealed but of any others who come forward, until they are in line with the minimum wage. Uber drivers may now also seek employment rights such as sick pay and holiday pay, or parental leave.
All this will greatly improve the quality of life of Uber’s drivers, but we may also see some changes…