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Uber drivers strike over pay issues and algorithmic transparency

Unionised Uber drivers take industrial action against the company over its failure to pay workers in line with a Supreme Court decision and inflation, as well as the lack of transparency around how it uses their data

UK drivers employed by ride-hailing app Uber are staging a 24-hour national strike today (22 June), over a variety of ongoing disputes around pay, the company’s failure to comply with a Supreme Court ruling and it’s lack of algorithmic transparency.

Members of the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU), who organised the strike, also staged a protest demonstration outside Uber’s Aldgate Tower office in London, which was attended by around 400 drivers, and are asking the public not to cross the digital picket line by using the Uber app during the strike period.

It said that drivers are “facing an unprecedented cost of living crisis” due to increasing fuel inflation (44%), vehicles costs (28%) and household inflation (7.8%), while Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi “will earn £45m this year at an equivalent hourly pay rate of £21,000.”

To resolve the industrial dispute, the ADCU is demanding that Uber complies with a Supreme Court ruling by paying drivers minimum wage and holiday pay for all working time, which means from when they log in to the app, not just when they are assigned to trips.

In February 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that drivers should be classified as workers rather than self-employed individuals, giving roughly 70,000 drivers the right to be paid the national minimum wage, to receive statutory minimum holiday pay and rest breaks, as well as protection from unlawful discrimination and whistleblowing.

Although Uber announced in March 2021 that drivers would receive holiday pay, be automatically enrolled in a workplace pension scheme and earn at least the national living wage (£8.72 an hour), this was only applied to the time drivers are assigned to trips, rather than, as the Supreme Court explicitly ruled, from when they log in to the app.

The ADCU added that Uber must raise fares to £2.50 per mile and £0.20 per minute, noting that as of 21 June, fares being offered in central London were at a historic low of £1.06 per mile and £0.10 per minute.

Algorithmic transparency

The union is also calling for the company to provide full algorithmic transparency so drivers can understand how they are being profiled, how their performance is managed, and on what basis work has either been allocated or withheld.

It added that Uber must also end its practice of unfair dismissals: “Drivers are often flagged for summary dismissal by automated means and are denied any proper due process of investigation, appeal or representation. This in turn can lead to licensing action by local licensing authorities and drivers having to explain why they were fired with Uber often failing to even disclose the reasons.”

The ADCU has previously claimed that the impact of these unfair dismissals has been exacerbated by the transport regulator’s failure to properly scrutinise information from Uber.

It said that Transport for London (TfL) has been overly reliant on questionable information from Uber’s facial verification-based driver ID system when making licence revocation decisions, which can severely impact a driver’s livelihood if they are unable to legally operate their vehicle.

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Speaking to Computer Weekly at the time, Abbas Nawrozzadeh of Eldwick Law said that he had been “dealing with a raft of these cases” since Uber introduced its Real-Time ID Check facial-verification system.

Commenting on the strike action, ADCU London chair Abdurzak Hadi said Uber drivers have never been worse off than they are now: “Drivers have been exposed to hyperinflation while Uber refuses to either obey the Supreme Court ruling which protects workers or raise fares and pay to offset inflation of their operating costs.

“This is beyond greed. Uber has placed its workforce in very dangerous circumstances and the result is driver overwork, declining mental health and families in great distress. I implore the government to dismiss the Uber spin and urgently intervene to enforce the law against what is an increasingly out-of-control company.”

ADCU members previously took strike action and held demonstrations at eight UK Uber offices in September 2021 over the same issues being protested now.

Computer Weekly contacted Uber about the strike action and the ADCU’s demands, but received no response by time of publication.

Uber collusion with the Met Police

Ahead of the strike, an internal memo from the building management at Uber’s Aldgate Tower offices was leaked to the ADCU, which, according to the union, suggests that Uber is collaborating with the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to provide intelligence on the union, as well as the strike action and planned protest.

The memo said that, in response to the ADCU’s planned protest, it is likely Uber’s internal security management will need to “employ some additional security measures during these times”.

It went on to say Uber’s security team will have two additional security officers present on the day, and that the MPS is aware of the activity: “They have specified that they are working with Uber’s security to understand the intelligence around the event … They will monitor events closely before and throughout, and keep us informed should they need to take any further action on the day.”

In response to the memo, the union said it “has asked the Mayor of London to intervene to demand that the Met immediately ceases any such intelligence gathering on lawful trade union activity”, adding that it is awaiting responses from both the Mayor and the MPS.

Computer Weekly contacted the Mayor of London, but received no response by time of publication. An MPS spokesperson said the force refuted the suggestion it had worked with Uber to share intelligence around the ADCU protect. They added: "We do frequently work with businesses and their security around protests to ensure adequate policing resources are in place in the event of any disorder or criminal activity."

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