Uber drivers not earning ‘total dirt’ says UK Uber Chair

Uber drivers are not making “total dirt” says firm’s Chair, despite minicab driver representatives' ongoing calls for workers' rights to be enforced.

According to Techworld, Laurel Powers-Freeling, the Uber UK Chair, was speaking at an event hosted by McKinsey and Company consultancy firm in London.

Powers-Freeling is said to have claimed: “Our drivers on average, after all their expenses, make about £11. So they are not making total dirt. That is what they make."

The Chair of Uber was referencing a study conducted by Oxford Martin School at Oxford University, which was commissioned and paid for by Uber. The study was called “Uber happy? Work and Wellbeing in the ‘Gig Economy’".

The study, which used anonymised administrative data from Uber and a newly-compiled survey of 1,001 Uber drivers, found that three quarters have a lower total income than the median London worker. Driving with Uber, the median driver earns about £11 an hour after subtracting vehicle overheads and Uber’s service fee. But the majority of those surveyed said they valued flexibility over a salary or fixed hours, and the data showed drivers regularly changed their working hours from week to week (with an average working week of 30 hours).

Dr Frey, Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment, said: “Whether money can buy happiness is a much-debated question. If income levels are the prime determinant of people’s well-being, one would expect Uber drivers to be much less satisfied with their lives relative to the general London population. Yet we find the opposite to be true. Uber drivers report higher levels of life satisfaction and worthwhileness than other London workers.”

“This does not mean that income doesn’t matter,” Frey added, “but it does suggest that Uber driver’s relative well-being is driven by other factors.”

In 2016 minicab drivers took successful legal action when Uber driver members told them of the long hours they were working to make up for being paid far below the legal minimum wage, once the costs of doing the job were taken into account.

This week the United Private Hire Drivers branch of the IWGB union announced they were to publish a legal opinion on the subject of workers' rights. It claims that the London Mayor Sadiq Khan could step in to protect minicab drivers and enforce higher workers' rights.

Jason Galbraith-Marten QC and Sheryn Omeri of Cloisters chambers in London authored an opinion to answer whether a ‘fit and proper’ assessment for public licensing can consider compliance with the law for firms like Uber, and whether licensing authorities like Transport for London have the capacity and obligation to impose conditions that such firms must obey the law before they can be granted a public licence.

Jason Galbraith-Marten QC and Sheryn Omeri wrote: 'It is our opinion that the ‘fit and proper person’ requirement for the issue of a private hire operator’s licence does require the licensing authority to take account of the question of whether the applicant for a licence has in the past failed, or will in the future fail, to observe relevant employment law rights of its private hire vehicle drivers."

The team went on to warn that any failure on the part of Transport for London and the Mayor to consider Uber’s employment law record in its licensing decision could amount to a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

James Farrar, Chair of the United Private Hire Drivers branch of the IWGB union and co lead claimant in Aslam & Farrar v Uber, said: “Despite our win against at the Employment Tribunal against Uber in 2016, justice has been denied while Uber pursues one hopeless appeal after another to buy time to corner the London market.

"It is devastating to now learn that the Mayor and Transport for London could have stepped in to protect us years ago but failed to do so.

"The Mayor must act now to correct this terrible mistake and follow the lead of the Mayor of New York who last year set worker rights compliance as a condition of license there. What’s the Mayor afraid of – a lawsuit from Uber?”

This legal opinion comes after the London Mayor suggested workers’ rights are not within the control of the regulators or licensing authorities. The Mayor did suggest more information could be provided to drivers to help make a more educated choice, when it came to selecting an operator based around their lifestyle and needs.

Khan said: “The contractual arrangements between private hire drivers and who they choose to work for, including their pay and working conditions, is not within the control of licensing authorities, including Transport for London. However, I have been clear that I believe urgent action needs to be taken to improve working conditions, such as driver pay, health and hours worked."

In September Transport for London announced its decision to issue Uber London with a two-month private hire operator licence ahead of consideration of any potential further licensing application.

This licence is due to expire soon.

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