Open letter to Jo Bertram on proposed Uber driver welfare initiatives

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Jo Bertram has written to Uber drivers to announce a range of driver initiatives to improve welfare. What is proposed is woefully inadequate and smacks more of a PR exercise in obfuscation to distract from the firm's continued refusal to respect driver worker rights. However, in the spirit of constructive dialogue we have written to Jo with some recommendations on how to make her proposals truly effective and meaningful.

Dear Jo

I am writing to you regarding your announcement of initiatives with the goal of improving driver welfare. While any initiative is welcome, we are deeply concerned about the implications of some of what you are proposing. As such, we now make some suggestions of enhancements that Uber must immediately action if the programme is ever to rise beyond the perception of a cheap PR exercise to become of real value to drivers.


Driver Appeals Panel

Given Uber’s dismal record in summary dismissal of drivers without any recourse it is important that you institute a robust and credible grievance process. To this end we believe the proposed appeals panel must be truly independent of management and have real authority to overturn unfair management decisions. We propose that UPHD should administer the driver panel process and arrange the election of drivers to sit on this independent panel. The panel should not be constituted or controlled in any way by Uber management otherwise it will rapidly lose credibility. Left to the devices of management, PR groomed drivers such as Steven Rowe will end up  further destroying the credibility and trust in the process and in Uber management.


Earnings Advice Sessions

Training is welcome but the earnings problem is not one that can be solved with education. The fact is there are too many drivers working at fares that are too low and making commissions payments that are too high. Uber Exec drivers financing executive class vehicles should not be forced by Uber to accept Uber X fares which are loss making for the driver. We recommend that Uber raise fares by 25% and drop commissions from the recently increased rate of 25% back to 10%. Given the low cost structure of Uber there is no reason why you should be charging the highest commission rates around. If you are determined to run theses earnings improvement sessions please ensure there is sufficient capacity. In the past too few sessions were offered and our members could not secure a place.


Pensions Advice

Any help with pensions is welcome but I’m afraid the only outcome of your proposal is that drivers will stand to receive a lot of spam from your partners at MoneyFarm. In light of the Employment Tribunal ruling which determined Uber drivers are workers we believe now is the time for Uber to set up a work place pension and auto enrol drivers in it on a mandatory basis. We believe Uber should also match driver contributions up to 15% of salary paid.


Free English language test

We especially welcome this initiative and are grateful that Uber is challenging TfL on this. However, we remain concerned that Uber’s true motive here is to maintain access to vulnerable labour since you have continued to deny worker rights. We therefore recommend that Uber recognise collective bargaining rights of drivers and respect their rights of association.



Additional flexibility in payments is welcome but the fact that drivers need this service only underscores the current precarious nature of Uber employment. FlexPay is not an answer in and of itself. Decent wages and paid holidays will address the real underlying needs of drivers.


Rider behaviour & despatch algorithm transparency

We welcome the additional detail on when riders maybe excluded from the platform but this is not nearly enough. When a driver has been assaulted and police have been involved, the driver must have the right to be assured that the offending rider has been removed from the platform. He must also have the right not to be performance rated by a rider who has assaulted him/her. Uber must also provide 24 hour assistance to drivers who are injured or attacked on the job and provide sick pay for time lost which could even be recovered from the assailant by Uber.

Further, drivers need 100% transparency on exactly how the despatch algorithm works. Drivers can already clearly see in practice that those paying 25% commission get more and higher value work than drivers paying you 20% commission. This is unfair of course but at the least drivers must have full transparency into a market that has become increasingly rigged against them by ever more intelligent algorithms.

Jo, thanks again for taking the initiative and I hope you will act on and respond to our constructive criticism. We want to give you the benefit of the doubt that the proposals are not just window dressing but a genuine effort to improve things. However, I fear if you do not address the issues we have raised your initiative will be doomed to remain a cheap PR stunt and go the way of many other initiatives, such as the Momentum drivers rewards programme, where management failed to follow through.  Uber drivers deserve better than that. We look forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards

James Farrar