A London taxi driver is seeking funding to take ride-hailing giants mytaxi to an employment tribunal following his removal from the taxi app.
Chris Johnson, a cabbie of 4 years, has used his removal from the popular app as an opportunity to raise questions as to whether mytaxi and similar ride-hailing apps are in fact a booking platform or a ply-for-hire conduit.
The driver is hoping that action in court will confirm mytaxi as a plying app for cabbies and bring into question similar private hire apps like Uber, Taxify and ViaVan who claim to be a pre-booking app.
To bring this question to the forefront Mr Johnson has challenged mytaxi on the grounds of workers rights. The cabbie is looking to follow in the steps of private hire drivers looking to move away from self-employed status and instead claim that each independent cabbie is in fact a controlled worker.
Chris Johnson said : “I’m bringing an employment tribunal case against MyTaxi on the grounds that I believe I have been unfairly sacked for blowing the whistle on serious public safety concerns. Additionally, I allege that MyTaxi has misclassified me under a sham self-employed contract similar to what most of these “gig economy” companies do to their workers to avoid giving drivers their basic rights.
“It’s important to note that I am not claiming that I am an employee for MyTaxi, I’m claiming that I’m a limb-b worker, that being a category of self-employed and someone who has some employment rights as I carry out my work as part of MyTaxis’ business.
“It’s difficult to suggest that taxi drivers are genuinely operating on their own when working for MyTaxi given the fact that MyTaxi fix the prices on jobs to the airports, contractually obligate drivers to do their work and suspend drivers if they don’t, and unfairly deactivate for highlighting public safety concerns – these are all reasons why I believe that MyTaxis’ driver T&C’s are a sham and are in fact not too dissimilar to the “controls” Uber place on their drivers.
“Given the increasing market dominance of apps these are important rights and winning may well stop apps like MyTaxi illegitimately undercutting individuals who are genuinely operating on their own account.”
This opinion is however not supported by some within the industry. Steve McNamara, General Secretary at the LTDA, who said: “We have always maintained that taxi drivers are 100% self employed and can decide when and if they work and if they sign up to or subscribe to an app or radio circuit.
“We are the polar opposite of minicab drivers who HAVE to subscribe to an app or minicab radio circuit and work for an Operator and who are ‘controlled and directed’ by an operator and who are 100% employed by that operator.
“I am aware that Unite, the RMT and the UCG share our position”
So far roughly 350 drivers have helped Mr Johnson raise £9,554 to help fund the legal work around an employment tribunal. The driver needs to raise a total of £15,000 in the next 20 days on fundraising site Crowd Justice.
There are some concerns from the taxi community that the case could have an adverse affect to the industry, especially around VAT exposure.
Currently self-employed drivers are not liable for VAT, however if that status changes companies like mytaxi and Gett will be passed the VAT liability required on all journeys. Drivers fear the VAT will pass directly back to the cabbie with fee’s potentially rising from 10% of each fare to 30% to cover the additional cost.
Chris Johnson added: “There has been some debate on social media that if I win a worker rights claim then MyTaxi will be exposed to VAT and our commission fees will be increased from the current 10% rate to 30% to cover that, I dispute this - what I’m claiming is that I’m a worker for all of the time the app is switched on and I’m available for work on it.
“If a driver has the app switched on for 12 hours a day and is unavailable on the app because of other work for 2 hours in that 12 hour period then MyTaxis’ liability to the driver is for 10 hours at the national minimum wage (NMW) rate plus expenses (approx £8 per hour for cost of the taxi). Therefore in reality, if we are not receiving the NMW plus expenses at a 10% commission rate, how could we receive the NMW plus expenses if MyTaxi were to increase the commission rate up to 30%?”
Sean Paul Day, one of the founders of rival ride-hailing app Taxiapp, supports the case by saying: “The trade has enjoyed a pretty good year, the street work has picked up and the apps have backed off from draconian fixed prices. Still, the Crowd Justice initiative is vital now more than ever.
“The freedom that we are currently enjoying needs to be ring fenced, The upturn in work is due to natural fluctuations in workflows and a significantly reduced fleet. It isn’t because there has been a change in policy and there is no regulatory framework being prepared to deal with the rapidly changing face of tech.
“On top of that is the influence of big business- even on our government bodies- now prevalent more than ever. All of this is what we should to prepare for, and that’s what the Crowd Justice Employment case is all about. If we want to continue enjoying the freedom that we have now, then we need that freedom ring fenced. There might come a time when we are more reliant on the apps or the trade is weakened by political interference, if so we will be mightily glad we took the time to have conditions set in place that protects our working practices. Preparing for the future begins now.”
At this moment in time a spokesperson from mytaxi said: "We are unable to comment on the legal case as it is ongoing."