Today we sent the following to TfL's board regarding their pending decision on Uber's application to renew their license:
Independent Workers Union of Great Britain
12-20 Baron Street
London N1 9LL
Transport for London Board
Post Point 10 City Hall
The Queen's Walk
London SE1 2AA
September 13, 2017
Re: Transport for London relicensing of Uber
Dear Transport for London board member
We are writing to you as lead claimants in the successful Employment Tribunal claim against Uber and/or officials of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB). We are writing on behalf of our private hire driver members, many of whom work for Uber.
Last year, we won the right for all Uber drivers to be recognised as self employed ‘workers’, which guarantees the minimum wage for every hour logged on to the Uber platform, holiday pay, and a number of other employment rights. Unfortunately, Uber has not accepted this ruling and is spending a fortune to avoid the obligation to provide these most basic of rights.
We were dismayed to read and hear Uber’s evidence used against us arguing TfL has ‘vetted and verified’ its abusive business model. While such claims were no doubt, opportunistic on Uber’s part, it is true that TfL has consistently refused to directly engage with private hire drivers through the licensee stakeholder process and it is true that TfL accepts no responsibility for the welfare and safety of drivers.
The end result of TfL’s dereliction of duty is a catastrophic deterioration in standards which threatens the safety of private hire drivers, their passengers and other road users. Our surveys and Uber's own data show some drivers are earning between £5 and £6 per hour while working up to 90 hours a week. In our survey of Uber drivers, 53% of drivers are assaulted or threatened on the job and 69% have been racially abused. Frank Field MP, Chair of the parliamentary select committee for work and pensions conducted his own review and memorably described Uber's driver contracts as 'gibberish' and declared driver worker conditions as resembling 'sweated labour of the Victorian era'. For TfL to preside over a publicly licensed transport system that tolerates the use of sweated labour is a national scandal that the TfL board should be profoundly ashamed of and the board must now move to take immediate corrective action.
The United Private Hire Drivers (now a branch of the IWGB) has been continually frustrated in our engagement with TfL and we can no longer ignore or tolerate clear discrimination that disadvantages our members, provides an unfair advantage to the corporate interests of operators while leading to poorer outcomes for the travelling public. Although we are the largest trade union body for private hire drivers we are denied the right to join the stakeholder process and adhoc enquiries almost always fail to raise a response. More broadly, TfL does not recognise a single dedicated representative body which exclusively represents private hire drivers. Unfortunately, we can also no longer ignore obvious racial discrimination at play in TfL’s trade engagement process. Let’s review the facts:
- 120,000 private hire drivers contribute 73% of TfL’s taxi and private hire license revenue through driver and vehicle licensing
- Of those who declare, 80% of private hire drivers hail from London's ethnic minority community while
- Of those who declare, 80% of taxi drivers are white British
- 23,000 taxi drivers, are represented by 5 separate dedicated driver representative bodies and enjoy various monthly and quarterly meetings including a regularly scheduled audience with Commissioner Mike Brown.
- 2 private trade organisations represent private hire operators while both Uber and Addison Lee enjoy dedicated monthly meetings with TfL
- A GMB branch provides combined representation for taxi drivers, private hire operators and some private hire drivers
- Private hire drivers are allowed no dedicated representation.
As a result of this discrimination, trust between private hire drivers, TfL and the Cab Enforcement Unit has broken down with many drivers now unwilling to report crime due to a perception that they would not be taken seriously by TfL, the Police or their licensed operator.
On May 6 this year our lawyers sent you a pre action letter to TfL warning that we reserve the option to seek a judicial review of any decision to unconditionally re-license Uber. While TfL has argued that it has no powers to cap and reduce excessive private hire licensing in London nor to protect the employment rights of drivers we believe this to be legally and morally indefensible. Allowing sweatshop conditions to fester in the publicly licensed transport system leads to a decline in the safety and security of the system for everyone.
Specifically, we are demanding:
- that worker rights protections - including the London living wage & recognition that drivers are “workers” in law - be conditional upon Uber and all private hire operator license renewal.
- TfL immediately recognise the UPHD branch of the IWGB union as a regulatory stakeholder with access to all monthly and quarterly meetings where driver concerns can be raised and dealt with
- TfL engage with the private hire driver community to define ply for hire rights and to define a private hire pre booking. Regulations have not kept pace with technology and without these regulatory definitions drivers are placed in legal jeopardy by TfL and operators. Given, that TfL already has and seeks further criminal enforcement powers for plying offences it is crucial that TfL clarify regulations and communicate proactively so that risk and uncertainty is removed
We now appeal to the board to immediately take responsibility to direct TfL to impose appropriate labour protection conditions on Uber's license before renewal and that similar conditions are placed on all future operator licensing.
We also would like to place TfL on notice that we intend to stage a demonstration outside TfL offices at Paestra at 8am on September 27 - the morning of our first day in court to defend against Uber's appeal. We will be taking this opportunity to highlight TfL's role in fostering exploitation in the so-called “gig economy” through its inappropriate relationship with Uber, its failure to protect & respect private hire driver licensees and placing the travelling public at risk by allowing sweatshop conditions to fester in the licensed transport system.
Our struggle against Uber and other exploitative operators is a David and Goliath story. In the end we will prevail. It is time for TfL to decide whether it wants to be recorded in history as part of the problem or part of the solution.
Dr. Jason Moyer-Lee, IWGB Gen Sec
James Farrar, United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) branch of IWGB, Chair & founder, lead claimant in Aslam & Farrar v Uber
Yaseen Aslam, United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) branch of IWGB, founder, lead claimant in Aslam & Farrar v Uber