Uber is rolling out new benefits for drivers working through its platform in Europe, including sick pay, paid parental and bereavement leave, and compensation for work-related injuries, the BBC reported this week:
The insurance and compensation package will be available to all Uber drivers and Uber Eats delivery couriers across Europe. However, unions have questioned whether the package is new. In April 2017, Uber announced illness and injury insurance cover for its drivers. Uber drivers who wanted to join the scheme were required to pay £2 a week. …
Uber will provide drivers with a range of insurance coverage and compensation resulting from accidents or injuries that occur while they are working, as well as protection for “major life events” that happen whether the driver is on a shift or not. … Drivers are not going to get the kind of benefits they would enjoy as employees but there will be a little something to help them deal with life’s ups and downs.
The announcement comes just a month before an appeals hearing in a London court regarding Transport for London’s decision last September to revoke Uber’s license to operate as a private car hire operator in the city, on the basis that its “approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility.” Uber has been allowed to continue operating in London while it appeals the decision, as it is scheduled to do at Westminster Magistrates Court on June 25, the BBC notes.
The battle with Transport for London is just one of several Uber is fighting in the UK and continental Europe. Last November, the company lost an appeal against a ruling by a British employment tribunal that its drivers were misclassified as independent contractors and are in fact entitled to certain rights as employees, including paid leave, overtime, and a minimum wage. Uber contends that classifying its drivers as employees would fatally disturb its business model and prevent it from offering the flexibility in terms of work hours and location that most of its drivers consider a benefit. Critics contend that this is a false choice and that Uber could maintain that flexibility while offering drivers a fuller range of rights and protections. Uber is pursuing further appeals in that case.
In the EU, meanwhile, Uber was hit with a ruling last December from the European Court of Justice that it should be regulated as a transportation company, not a technology company as it claims to be. This ruling, not subject to appeal, could subject Uber to additional licensing and tax requirements within the European Union, while tipping the court’s hand as to how it might treat other gig economy platforms in similar cases. Uber already operates under transportation law in some EU countries.
Uber’s announcement of new benefits for European drivers is therefore likely meant to improve the company’s position in these legal entanglements and mollify EU and UK regulators. Nonetheless, the BBC notes, the changes may not placate its adversaries:
James Farrar, the lead claimant in an employment tribunal case against Uber and chair of United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) branch of the IWGB union, told the BBC: “This is not nearly enough. We have statutory rights under the law. What Uber has given us are cosmetic benefits that can be taken away at any time.”
The changes are also, however, likely part of Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s broader attempt to reorient the company after a series of scandals last year brought about by founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick’s “move fast and break things” business philosophy. Khosrowshahi, the former CEO of Expedia, succeeded Kalanick as CEO last August and has been on a continuous campaign to repair what he freely acknowledges are serious problems with the company’s culture and reputation.