Calls for immediate reforms in Australia after Uber classifies UK drivers as 'workers'

Uber has moved to classify drivers in the UK as workers, now the Australian Trade Unions says the government needs to push for similar reforms for drivers here.

British transit authorities are refusing to renew Uber's license to operate in London

British transit authorities are refusing to renew Uber's license to operate in London. Source: Flickr

The Transport Workers Union is demanding stronger protections for Australia's gig economy after Uber announced it will classify tens of thousands of UK drivers as "workers". 

Uber made the world-first move - covering some 70,000 drivers and riders - after a UK Supreme Court ruled in February that Uber drivers were entitled to employment rights.

It is a massive change in the business model of a company that had argued before Britain's Supreme Court that its drivers were self-employed.

Union secretary Michael Kaine said Australia needed to enforce better regulation of the gig economy. 

“Australia must move quickly to regulate the likes of Uber in the right way,” he said.

Mr Kaine said Australia should not allow the rideshare company to dictate the rights of drivers.

"It should not be up to Uber to decide how few rights gig workers get. It is up to the Federal Government to act now and ensure delivery riders are safe in their jobs."

Uber’s historic move in the UK will now afford drivers minimum wage, vacation time and a pension.

The higher costs for Uber come as it faces sliding driver bookings owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, despite strong demand for the Uber Eats food delivery service during national lockdowns.

Uber did not expect the change in driver compensation to affect its net income this year, the company said in a US regulatory filing.

Uber Australia said it’s important to note that the UK’s legal classification system is different to the Australian system.

“The UK already had a third status of worker which doesn’t exist in Australia. There are other reform solutions that could be pursued in Australia that could deliver a stronger safety net for gig workers than what currently exists,” a spokesperson said.

“Sector-wide requirements for platform companies to accrue benefits and provide insurance and other minimum standards, could help improve independent work, ensure a level playing field, and deliver business certainty.”

The spokesperson for Uber Australia said the company is happy to cooperate with the government.

“In Australia we want to work with government, industry and workers on reforms that provide stronger benefits and protections for independent contractors in the gig economy.”

The Ride Share Drivers' Association of Australia said that the status of Uber drivers in Australia shouldn’t change as it could risk compromising their flexibility.

“Drivers will lose a lot of flexibility and freedom associated with employee/worker classification,” association Secretary Les Johnson said.

However the association said reforms such as a “fair and sustainable contract” that’s “based on the jurisdiction where the work is carried out” and a “right of reply against allegations” are extremely important.

Additional reporting by AFP.

3 min read
Published 17 March 2021 at 3:16pm
By Massilia Aili
Source: SBS