RIDE-HAIL giant Uber were hit by two mobilisations from drivers in north and south Europe on Tuesday [28 September], as UK Uber drivers demanded better conditions of employment, while in Barcelona taxi drivers resisted Uber’s legally questionable presence in the Catalan capital.
The Gig Economy Project, led by Ben Wray, was initiated by BRAVE NEW EUROPE enabling us to provide analysis, updates, ideas, and reports from all across Europe on the Gig Economy. If you have information or ideas to share, please contact Ben on GEP@Braveneweurope.com
This series of articles concerning the Gig Economy in the EU is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust
The Gig Economy Project reports from Barcelona where taxi drivers have mobilised in big numbers against Uber, while in the UK Uber drivers have taken strike action
The Gig Economy Project was present at the Elité Taxi Association’s Barcelona mobilisation, and witnessed around 1,300 taxi drivers participate in a ‘slow march’ through the main organs of the city, slowing traffic considerably while beeping their horns continuously.
Uber returned to Barcelona in March after exiting the Catalan capital following beefed up regulations in 2019, following an indefinite strike by Elité Taxi. The company’s comeback is on a new basis to previously, offering an intermediary service connecting app users with licensed drivers.
Yet it has still fallen foul of the regulator, the Metropolitan Taxi Institute (IMET), which found that Uber’s new model was in breach of pricing rules because they do not offer a closed price fare. As a result, most taxi drivers (who are self-employed but licensed by the Barcelona metropolitan area authority) have steered clear of the company, which currently has an extremely limited presence in the city.
Before the mobilisation even took place, one of Elité Taxi’s demands had already been met by the IMET, which ruled last week that it was illegal for drivers using the Uber app to do so without presenting Uber’s iconography on the car. Taxi drivers found to be using Uber could lose their license due to the company’s regulatory breaches.
The Barcelona demonstration was also a mobilisation against ‘Free Now’, another private car app headquartered in Germany, and has a presence in 100 European cities. Elité Taxi accuses the company of an alliance to undermine the taxi through liberalisation of the sector, citing the company’s participation in ‘Move EU’, a Brussels Lobby group, alongside Uber and Bolt.
Taxi drivers at the demonstration following the ‘slow march’ ripped Free Now stickers off their cars and placed them in the bin, in a symbolic display of defiance against the company.
Free Now responded to Elité Taxi’s action by denying the union’s claims that they support liberalisation of the sector, stating they are a “competitor” of Uber and not in alliance with it, and that Move EU “was created after the European Commission asked us, the main intermediation platforms, to group together in order to be able to deal with a single interlocutor.”
Free Now added that they defend regulations which support “a level playing field”, but added that the sector did need reform, stating “the world has changed and we have to adapt”.
Elité Taxi responded by stating Free Now have defended “dynamic pricing”, where fares are flexible based on supply and demand and ending restrictions on the number of taxi licenses which are distributed (in Barcelona it is currently one private hire license for every 30 taxi licences), all of which runs contrary to regulations in the Barcelona metropolitan area.
“All of the above calls into question the transparency and commitment that Free Now claims to have with the taxi sector in Spain, as we are faced with a very different duality of positions (one, with the Spanish taxi driver, and the other, with its partners Uber and Bolt) that needs to be clarified,” Elité Taxi added.
Union leader Alberto ‘Tito’ Alvarez announced that the union will be taking its message in defence of the taxi direct to Brussels, with an Elité Taxi mobilisation at the EU Commission on 14 October.
Alvarez also said that their mobilisations in Barcelona would escalate if the regulator does not defend the rules “scrupulously”.
Elité Taxi are currently pursuing five separate legal actions, all of which involve Uber in some way, including one at the European Court of Justice.
In the UK, the 24-hour national strike of Uber drivers organised by the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) saw demonstrations take place in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds & Glasgow.
ADCU is calling for Uber to fully implement the Supreme Court’s ruling in February, which found that Uber drivers are employees from log-in until log-out.
Uber accepted that their UK drivers are employees, providing holiday pay and a minimum wage, but has refused to pay drivers for their whole time using the app, instead only paying from the moment they pick-up a customers until drop-off. It’s estimated that Uber drivers earn 40% less on average as a result of the company’s policy.
ADCU is also challenging unfair deactivations from the app, describing Uber’s algorithm and surveillance system of its drivers – which most of its dismissals are based on – as “flawed”.
The union also wants to see an end to up front pricing, an increase of fares from £1.25 per mile to £2.00 per mile and the reduction of Uber’s commission from 25% to 15%.
Yaseen Aslam, ADCU President, said: “This strike is just the beginning and there will be much more unrest until Uber does the right thing and pay drivers all that they are owed, both pension contributions and working time.”
The strike was also backed by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said: “Full support to the Uber Strike today. Through action and solidarity we can change the world so workers and their rights are respected.”
Uber defended its UK policy ahead of the strike, citing its formal recognition agreement with the GMB union, which was signed earlier this year.
“We are working together with our trade union partner to raise standards for drivers through greater transparency and engagement,” an Uber spokesperson said.
“GMB represents drivers in areas such as earnings, deactivations, and the implementation of new worker benefits, such as holiday pay and pensions.”
While Uber claims GMB represents drivers on earnings, collective bargaining over pay is not included in the recognition agreement, a fact that was criticised by ADCU at the time of the deal.