On fighting for drivers’ rights UberX drivers are way ahead of cabbies

Whether you like it or not the differences between taxi drivers and ride-share drivers is narrowing rapidly. Increasingly we have more in common than what divides us. We are all trying to earn a quid doing the same job. We are all being underpaid for the work we do. Neither of us have any industrial rights because we are classified as independent contractors, a classification which has never been tested properly in an Australian court of law. It’s time it was. It is being tested internationally with increasing success.

by Peer Lindholdt

In October, a London tribunal ruled that Uber’s drivers are employees and should be entitled to benefits like minimum wages and holiday pay in a case involving two drivers that was brought by one of Britain’s biggest unions, the GMB.

Uber is appealing the tribunal’s decision. That however hasn’t stopped GMB. It is now formally asking HMRC to investigate and guarantee drivers are paid the legal minimum wage, and to recover National Insurance contributions and taxes owed.

HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs) is like our ATO, but oddly is also in charge of the enforcement of the national minimum wage. How near is that?

In the US lawsuits against Uber are running hot. Back in 2013, lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan filed a class action that involved 385,000 drivers in California and Massachusetts. Those drivers said they were employees entitled to reimbursement for expenses like gas and vehicle maintenance.

The case was finally slated to go to trial in June this year, but in April Liss-Riordan negotiated an $84 million settlement with Uber, to be paid out to drivers based on how many miles they had driven. However, the offer attracted criticism from both drivers and the San Francisco judge overseeing the case that the proposed deal didn’t do enough for drivers. The impasse is still to be resolved.

Also in June a group representing 5,000 Uber drivers in New York City filed a lawsuit arguing that the company misclassified drivers as independent contractors. In Boston last week, yet another driver filed a similar suit. At least eight other employment classification cases are pending in states including Indiana and Texas. And on and on it goes. (Source: Fusion)

Is anything similar likely to happen in Australia? According to Secretary of the Ride Sharing Driver Association of Australia, Les Johnson, the answer is “yes”.

He believes it is “only a matter of time” before a similar action is brought against Uber Australia, but argued that what ride sharing drivers really wanted was flexibility coupled with fairness.

“We want to be independent contractors with fair contracts and sustainable rates,” he said.

“They [Uber] micro-manage us to the nth degree.”

Well Mr Johnson, if you are being micro-managed to the nth degree you are been treated as employees, not as an independent contractor and the same will apply to taxi drivers once the state governments get their acts together and introduce their new minimalist regulations for the point-to-point transport industry. Already the taxi networks are flexing their muscles with their new apps ihail and 13CABS by copying Uber’s rating system, refusal to give destination with job offers and demanding that cars affiliated with their networks carry their decals and wear their uniforms. Like Uber they will be able to set their own fare rates and charge drivers whatever they think they can get away with for generating jobs.

Keeping all this in mind it is worth noting that we already have a federal industrial award, the Passenger Vehicle Transportation Award 2010, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Fair Works Commission. It covers a driver of a motor vehicle, limousine or hire car capable of carrying less than eight persons and used for hire or reward. By definition, that includes both taxi and ride-share (private hire) drivers. Under the award a full time employee is someone who works 38 hours a week or more. He is entitled to holiday and sick pay. A part time employee is someone who works less than 38 hour per week. He is also entitled to holiday and sick pay but on a pro rata basis.

The minimum wage for a P2P employee driver is $743.30 per 38-hour week or $19.56 an hour. Hours worked in excess of 38 hours are paid at time and a half for the first 3 hours and double time thereafter. Weekend work: Saturday, time and a half, Sunday and Public Holidays, double time.

Whether you drive for a taxi or ride-share company full time, these rates should prove to you that your are being well and truly screwed as an independent contractor. •

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OZ Cabbie February 2017

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