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The ridesharing giant Uber is reportedly set to recognize the GMB trade union in the UK for its private hire drivers. Infamous for fiercely pursuing legally classifying its workers as independent contractors rather than employees in the U.S., it’s a different story across the pond. This marks the first deal between a union and a gig economy ride-hailing service. However, the deal excludes its food delivery division, Uber Eats.
Some of the perks included under the recognition deal include the union having access to drivers’ meeting hubs to help and support them, being able to represent drivers if they lose access to the Uber app, and will meet quarterly with management to discuss driver issues and concerns. However, drivers will not become members automatically, but will be able to sign up to take part in collective bargaining. And, as aforementioned, the union recognition agreement does not apply to delivery riders for the Uber Eats food service, which works with about 30,000 couriers.
Among the issues likely to be taken up by the GMB in the UK is that Uber’s new pay scheme ignores the supreme court ruling that drivers’ working time should be calculated from the moment they log on to its app to work until they log off. In the U.S., together with Lyft, Uber famously held up complying with AB5 by tying the state government in court until Prop. 22 passed in Nov., exempting them from classifying its drivers as employees and providing full benefits.
According to The Guardian, the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU), whose founding members were lead claimants in the employment tribunal which led to the aforementioned supreme court ruling, said trade union engagement with Uber was “a welcome development.” However, they also said it would not sign a recognition deal with Uber as the group “continues to violate basic employment law such as the right to minimum wage and holiday for all working time despite the recent UK supreme court ruling found in our favour.”
Like in the U.S., Uber argued in the UK as well that like many delivery and courier services, its drivers were independent self-employed “partners” not entitled to basic rights enjoyed by workers, which include the legally enforceable minimum hourly wage and a workplace pension. But back in Feb., the UK supreme court dismissed Uber’s appeal against a 2016 employment tribunal ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers. That legal case was supported by the GMB.
Quoted by The Guardian, national officer of the GMB Mick Rix reportedly called the deal between the union and Uber “groundbreaking,” and what “could be the first step to a fairer working life for millions of people.” “This agreement shows gig economy companies don’t have to be a wild west on the untamed frontier of employment rights,” he said. “When tech private hire companies and unions work together like this, everyone benefits – bringing dignified, secure employment back to the world of work. We now call on all other operators to follow suit.”
The regional general manager for Uber in northern and eastern Europe Jamie Heywood, also quoted by The Guardian, spoke about the company’s commitment to improve workers’ protections.” Uber is the only major player in the industry to provide drivers with a national living wage guarantee, holiday pay, and a pension, and this historic agreement means that Uber will be the first in the industry to ensure that its drivers also have full union representation,” Heywood said.