As Uber drivers in the ADCU union strike in wake of Uber Files revelations, the General Secretary calls for whistleblower Mark MacGann to answer their questions at a public hearing: “The drivers deserve a first-hand account now”
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 Europe is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust.
UK Uber drivers in the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) are striking today [20 July] in wake of the ‘Uber Files’ revelations, and their General Secretary has called on Mark MacGann, the source of the huge leak to of Uber documentation to The Guardian newspaper and the company’s former chief lobbyist in Europe, to answer the union’s questions.
James Farrar told the Gig Economy Project that there are still many unanswered questions about Uber’s operations following last week’s revelations, which were based on over 124,000 reports, text messages, e-mails and other forms of communication at the top levels of Uber between 2013 to 2017.
“Normally what you see in these types of things is that somebody anonymously dumps a load of documents to the media, but MacGann has gone beyond that to say ‘I’m the whistleblower’. So why are we reliant just on documents then? He can give us direct testimony of what went on,” Farrar said.
The ADCU won at the Supreme Court last year after the judge decided that Uber driver’s were employees of the company, and Farrar made a public offer to MacGann that ADCU will organise a hearing if he will participate.
“We’ll volunteer. We’ll source the QC. And let MacGann come in and answer our questions for a few hours in front of a panel and see what questions he’ll answer and won’t answer. The drivers deserve a first-hand account now,” Farrar said.
MacGann has been interviewed since the Uber Files scandal went public, but Farrar described his comments on Uber drivers’ rights as “pretty barren” and “cliched”.
He added: “Because the reality is we are no further forward – we still have to go to litigate and there’s no enforcement of the law that we do have, so we are still fighting all the time with one-hand tied behind our back and an ankle-chained at the same time.”
Farrar, who previously worked as an Uber driver, is also critical of the response from governments and regulators in the UK to the revelations, with no response at all from London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the Transport for London (TfL) regulator, which agreed to a new license for Uber in March. London is one of Uber’s largest markets.
“It’s not surprising, we’ve seen the amount of access to power that Uber has had in the UK,” Farrar said. “They’ve been promising a UK employment bill since 2015, it has been endlessly delayed, while Uber has had endless amount of access. And they seem to have neutralised the Labour opposition as well. We’ve seen Rachel Reeves [Shadow Chancellor for Labour] getting her picture taken with Uber executives.
“That sends a signal that urgent reform to address the worst excesses of the gig economy is not a priority for either Labour or for the Tory Government. That’s a sign that Uber has had years of access, while at the same time drivers have been locked out. And remember every penny that Uber has, we earned it for them, that’s our money that Uber is using against us.”
The 24-hour strike was called in response to the Uber Files revelations, with the ADCU issuing four demands to Uber:
- That the Supreme Court ruling last year, which found that drivers should be paid for waiting time, is obeyed in full, fares increased to £2.50 per mile and 20p per minute, and that Uber’s commission is capped at 15%.
- That all drivers are paid back pay owed as a result of the Supreme Court ruling;
- That Uber ends its “unethical political influencing” of government and public bodies;
- That Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, who now runs Uber Eats and was identified in the Uber Files as being a key operator of the company’s ‘kill switch’ policy to deny government investigators access to company files, is fired with immediate effect.
Farrar said that Uber has responded to the strike by “surging all morning, that’s a clear indication of a shortage of supply”. Surge pricing is used by Uber at times of peak demand, but can also be a way of encouraging drivers to work rather than go on strike.
“Uber is not only surging but is discounting the fair as well, so its surging up the price to try to get the drivers on the platform and then on the other side it’s discounting that from the passenger. They are subsidising their fares even more than normal to try to break the strike. That’s a good sign that it’s having a major impact on Uber,” he explained.
The union said it would be operating “roving physical pickets at locations throughout London” to encourage more Uber drivers to join the strike. A public demonstration took place at 12 noon outside Uber’s London offices at Aldgate Tower.
Speaking to the Gig Economy Project, Farah Musa, an Uber driver in London and ADCU member, said he was on strike for four reasons.
“We need fair pay. We need an end to the unfair dismissal [of drivers]. Uber need to be transparent with the way they do things, and finally Uber needs to obey the Supreme Court ruling.”
Drivers have suffered from a sharp rise in petrol prices as well as the broader cost of living crisis, and Musa said that he was being squeezed by rising prices at the pump and falling pay.
“If I want to earn money I have to work long hours, and I am a family man, I need to spend time with my kids, he explained. “There’s so many things that I have to do just to survive.”
The Uber Files revealed the tactics the company uses in relation to drivers, including taking a low commission per ride at first to encourage drivers into the sector and under-cut competition, then raising the commission later once they are established. The Uber Files also showed that the company would help tax authorities identify Uber drivers for tax collection in return for more lax treatment in respect to the company’s own tax affairs.
Musa said that after the Uber Files revelations, it was time that the company was “regulated properly by TfL”.
ADCU are calling on passengers not to cross the “digital picket line” and observe the 24-hour strike.
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