The chair of Uber in the UK, Laurel Powers-Freeling, has claimed that Uber drivers aren't making "total dirt" after expenses and that the majority are not seeking employment status – citing an 'independent' report that was co-authored by two Uber employees.
Speaking at an event hosted by American consultancy firm McKinsey in London today, the ex non-executive director at the Bank of England and the Bank of Ireland said that it was a "myth" that Uber drivers "all want to be employed".
"Well, they don't," she said. "The reason that most of them came to us is because they value flexibility and that's the way they want to work."
Powers-Freeling went on to cite a "great independent study" conducted by Oxford University that was in fact co-authored by Santosh Rao, research scientist for policy at the rideshare firm, and Guy Levin, who works on public policy at Uber. (See this thread for more research papers that were authored by Uber employees - and here for a deep-dive into Uber's influential economics team.)
"Myth number two is that [drivers] don't make any money," added Powers-Freeling. "The national living wage, I think is something like £8.21 an hour. Our drivers on average, after all their expenses, make about £11. So they are not making total dirt. That is what they make."
However, the Independent Workers of Great Britain's private hire drivers branch, which has successfully challenged Uber in the courts over pay and conditions, has argued that drivers in the UK can earn on average £5 an hour – far below the national living wage of £8.21 and still well under the £6.15 minimum wage for workers aged between 18 to 20.
And Leigh Day, the solicitors representing drivers on behalf of the GMB union, estimated that drivers were on average £18,000 out of pocket since an employment tribunal ruled Uber workers were entitled to holiday pay, minimum wage and rest break entitlement back in 2016 because the company had continued to resist the ruling.
The final myth that Powers-Freeling wanted to dispel was that Uber does not care about its drivers, and that they're "cannon fodder".
"We do care about them, a lot," she said. "Because without them, it doesn't work, so we have to make sure that we are providing them with some safety nets and some help."
This includes disability, accident and medical insurance, maternity and paternity pay, along with online courses provided by the Open University.
"So we do care. We always talk about people, assets, whatever. Our drivers are just as important as our riders are – and as we all know, we need to take care of our customers."
But Uber only granted compensation for work-related injuries as well as parental leave last year – around the same time that it was having to prove to Transport for London that the company was fit to receive a full licence to continue operating in the capital.
And it was less than a year after an employment tribunal case found that drivers should not be classified as self-employed when Uber decided in 2017 that it would offer drivers sickness cover in exchange for £2 a week.
In none of these cases does it appear that the controversy-courting firm, which has famously flouted regulations, acted out of concern for its drivers – but more that its hand was forced by circumstance.
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