Last Thursday November 12th saw Uber drivers take to the streets to protest, for the first time in London, outside Uber’s palatial offices in Aldgate Tower. The public protest has been a long time coming considering we have suffered three price cuts, the imposition of an incomprehensible 22 page contract, a flooding of the market with more drivers than there is work for and now an increase in commission for Uber X drivers. Add to this the standard practice of Uber making unauthorized & unexplained income deductions, an increase in network charges, summary dismissals and complete neglect of drivers assaulted on the job.
The commission increase is an especially cruel blow right now and will cost new drivers an additional £50 – £70 per week. It comes at a time when Uber are continuing to aggressively on board new drivers with referral offers of up to £500 per head. It’s cruel because Uber are continuing to mislead drivers and the general public about how much money can be made in this game. It’s cruel because it lures people into debt to rent and finance vehicles they will struggle greatly to make pay. Its cruel because any driver who enters the Uber world will need to work excessive hours as the only possible way to cover costs and earn an income.
In August this year Uber bowed to the Advertising Standards Authority and withdrew internet advertising giving an overly rosy picture of potential driver earnings. Just last month Uber’s latest in a line of Communications Chiefs told the BBC Today programme that drivers took home £48,000 per annum. Jo Bertram has quoted the same number as £35,000. Last week the Uber spin machine, at full tilt because of the protest said the net income for drivers after commission is £16 per hour and this is, apparently, something they ‘look at very carefully.’
So where is the crisis? Let me break it down as simply as I can. The following image comes from this week’s weekly driver report from Uber.
First thing to note is that even the so called top drivers don’t make £16 per hour net, they barely make just over £15 per hour after commission is deducted from the notional £19 per hour figure. With the commission hike of 5% this figure drops to just over £14 per hour, £2 shy of what Uber says drivers make after commission. And remember, these are just the ‘top drivers’, it doesn’t even represent what average drivers make.
Now let’s take a look at typical operating costs to calculate a net take home figure.
Yes, even Uber’s ‘top drivers’ – using Uber’s own numbers and conservative, verifiable operating costs – cannot reach the minimum wage threshold. It falls short by £1.02 per hour or 15% below minimum wage.
Uber will say that driver operating models vary greatly and it’s up to us to control costs. But that just isn’t the case. The largest typical cost item is car rental and the £270 pcw figure above comes from PCO Rentals, an approved supplier listed in the Uber Marketplace. £100 per week in fuel is a more than reasonable estimate and the rest of the costs are self explanatory. These are typical costs for thousands of drivers no matter how hard Uber try to spin otherwise.
Also consider that the hours calculated here are just the logged in hours and total on the road hours including positioning, rest breaks, fueling, cleaning etc are likely to be another 30% which further dilutes even these best case figures.
Yet besides the obvious driver financial deprivation, long hours and increasingly congested streets, rather than suspend or slow down on boarding or raise prices – Uber adds to the suffering by making a grab for another 5% commission.
There is much more to say about last Thursday’s events and Uber’s refusal to engage in any meaningful discussion with drivers on pay. I will get to that soon. For now, I just wanted to explain why we drivers, in large numbers, finally took to streets last week. I have a feeling we’ll be back on the streets again very soon.
A statement from Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrats candidate for the Mayor of London election on the day of the GMB Uber driver protest, November 12, 2015.
I have long been very clear that the London taxi and private hire vehicles can both flourish, if there is fair completion and proper enforcement of those rules.
I also believe the golden thread running through all regulation must be the protection of passengers, especially vulnerable passengers.
Sadly we are a very long way from this situation today.
We have in many respects a triple whammy: Uber drivers being exploited, passengers sometimes put at unnecessary risk and London’s roads being clogged up by an unsustainable growth in private hire vehicles.
We need a proper and honest debate about whether time limits between booking and commencement of journey can really work. But three things are absolutely clear and where no debate is needed.
Firstly, that there is whole range of sensible steps that can and must be taken to improve the regulation of private hire vehicles such as an issues of insurance and background checks on operators. These changes should happen as quickly as possible. It would be totally wrong if the current Mayor took no action before he leaves City Hall.
Secondly TfL still need to go a long way in enforcing even the current rules, especially on touting.
And thirdly, while not being against any form of technology we must never, I repeat never, allow any company – especially one that avoids paying tax – to feel it alone can set the rulebook.
I know first hand from Uber drivers that they like working for the company but that their ever-worsening pay and conditions are pushing them into poverty. I’ve heard the story of one driver who worked 234 hours in August and was paid barely £5 per hour net, well below the national living wage and even further below the London Living Wage. For each hour he worked he paid more than a third of what he earned to Uber. This is not the kind of exploitation we expect from a 21st century company that prides itself on being at the cutting edge.
It stands to reason that low incomes mean long hours which translate into an increased safety risk for drivers, passengers and other road-users. I’m afraid that Uber’s latest move, to increase the commission that drivers are required to pay from 20 percent to 25 percent, will make a bad situation worse. That’s why I back this protest by GMB members who want Uber to be successful but believe that this means giving drivers a fairer deal.
Sian Berry is a former principal speaker of the Green Party. She previously stood as the party’s candidate for Mayor of London in 2008. She is also head of the Green Party’s list of candidates for the London Assembly.
A message of support from George Galloway ahead of the Uber driver protest in London tomorrow.
November 12, 2015
Brothers and Sisters;
I am sorry I cannot be with you in person due to other commitments and ask for your forgiveness that my contribution is limited to this message.
Boris Johnson, David Cameron and the Tories love Uber for all the reasons the union has a problem with the company.
The Tories believe in unregulated throat-cutting cost-cutting capitalism and they don’t much care if the capitalists in question don’t pay their taxes. And if the capitalist in question is a piratical American corporation, well, that’s dreamland for them…
It is I think well known that I am determined to deal with Uber if I am elected Mayor of London next May. They will have to – as a minimum – obey all the rules and comply with all the standards which we have regulated over decades.
But my opposition to Uber of course in no way implies any hostility from me towards Uber drivers. To the contrary. All the reasons which have made me such an opponent of Uber are illustrated by their treatment of their own drivers.
A company which seeks to drive a coach and horses through that which protects everyone else might have been expected to be a poor employer. And as you know better than me, that is certainly what they are.
So, in short, Uber drivers have a friend in me, especially if they are trade unionists as you are. I’m with the workers, always.
If there is anything you want me to do, whether as Mayor or not, your union merely have to ask.
I am at their, and your, service.