Monthly Archives: January 2016

Save the Children save Uber’s children

On Monday at 1230 I will be joining a small delegation of United Private Hire Drivers members to deliver an important message to Save the Children at their offices on St John St. Its an open initiative, if you care about charity ethics and worker rights do come along and join us.

We believe Save the Children has allowed the promise of cash to get in the way of seeing what is really important. Worse, I happen to think by supporting Uber’s PR campaign they are actively participating in creating the problems they are trying to create.

By way of background, during the autumn Uber and Save the Children teamed up in support of Syrian refugees. On the surface of it nothing wrong with that. Except this – Save the Children’s policy position on child poverty says that employers and policy makers should:

Ensure that those in work are not being paid below the poverty line, by backing the living wage and increasing the minimum wage.

And therein lies the problem. Should Save the Children:

  1. take Uber’s money and look the other way when it comes to drivers being paid below minimum wage and denied any rights here in London?
  2. refuse Uber’s money and therefore raise less aid for Syrian refugees?
  3. take Uber’s money but also take the opportunity to speak out on worker rights?

I can’t solve that dilemma for Save the Children but I did reach out to their CEO and the senior management team twice in the autumn but was soundly ignored. In fact it was not until UPHD announced it was going public on this in advance of the Uber GiveBack campaign due to kick off on January 23rd that I got this reply from interim CEO, Tanya Steele:

Thank you for your letter and your expression of support for our work with refugees from Syria. Donations from the public will go towards our life-saving work with them.

We can assure you that every opportunity with a corporate or brand is considered independently, reflecting its potential impact for children. As a children’s organisation we work tirelessly to protect children and during an emergency such as the refugee crisis, we do whatever it takes to help save children’s lives. This means responding quickly to opportunities that will support our work, such as the opportunity to raise vital funds that was presented to us by Uber last year. We would like to thank all the Uber drivers who supported the clothes collection appeal. I am sorry that you are disappointed with the decision we took and I appreciate you are likely to continue to raise your concerns directly with Uber.

Nice try at deflecting but, in fact, I never expressed disappointment at the partnership with Uber. I expressed concern that the charity ignored Uber’s exploitation of drivers in the rush to the bank. It is a move that is contradictory to Save the Children’s own policy. Here is what I wrote:

Dear Justin and Team

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am that nobody – yes, nobody – from Save the Children has seen fit to address our concerns about your partnership with Uber. You will be well aware from the media of our protests and our active legal pursuit to secure worker rights for private hire drivers in London who mostly earn below minimum wage, lack holiday pay or even rights to rest breaks.

Save the Children, as Uber’s partner, has a unique opportunity, nay, obligation, to use this position speak up for worker rights for Uber drivers. To look the other way while benefiting from a partnership that exploits drivers and impoverishes the children of 100,000 London drivers would be surely not just be a betrayal of vulnerable workers but also of your own principles. Your own policy position is quite clear on what needs to happen to stop impoverishment of the children of Uber drivers:

Ensure that those in work are not being paid below the poverty line, by backing the living wage and increasing the minimum wage.  
I would still like to believe your oversight in not communicating with us is just a miscommunication rather than a misjudgment. Nevertheless, we do plan to visit your office next Monday January 18 at 12:30PM with a delegation of drivers to deliver a hard copy of our letter in person to your office. If you happen to be in the office perhaps you might consider meeting with some of us. We also plan to issue a press release at 12:00PM on Thursday January 14 and we will invite representatives of the media to join us as we deliver our letter to you at St. John’s Lane next Monday.

 

I also wrote later asking if I could read Save the Children’s donation acceptance and refusal policy – something that is recommended as best practice for fundraisers – but have been met only with frosty silence. I thought the policy might at least help me understand Save the Children’s policy. However the failure to communicate meaningfully on well founded concerns just convinces me that all is not as it should be.

Unfortunately, Save the Children has form here and has been accused in going too far in accepting corporate cash unconditionally. In 2010 the New York Times reported how Save the Children dropped the soft drink sugar tax campaign after taking money from Coca Cola and putting a representative from the firm on their board. Then in 2013 Save the Children was exposed for suppressing any criticism of British Gas home energy prices in its fuel poverty campaign lest it threaten the regular cash injections it was receiving in its partnership with the energy firm.  In 2014 the charity attempted to give Tony Blair a ‘legacy award’ before 500 of their own staff mutinied and the award plan was dropped. Save the Children has an impressive line up of donors, many of whom have questionable ethics including Exxon Mobil, Wal Mart, Chevron, Cadbury raider Mondelez as well as Uber investor – and the firm Rolling Stone magazine famously tagged ‘a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money’ – yes, Goldman Sachs.

UPHD decided to raise the matter once more ahead of Uber’s latest do good PR scheme set to kick off on January 23. Uber is not giving much in the way of driver compensation, corporate tax, VAT or national insurance contributions but none the less it wants to #GiveBack. If charities like Save the Children want to participate in this reputation laundering exercise with Uber then they must not abandon principle. They must stand in solidarity with those oppressed by the Uber business model.

Before Uber takes license to #GiveBack it needs to show that it gives a damn.

Uber duff data claims no decline in 2015 driver earnings despite flooding the market

I’ve spoken to quite a few journalists covering Uber over the past few months and almost all have failed to properly investigate the scandalous truth of driver earnings at Uber. For example, Gareth Mead, Uber’s spin meister, got away with telling the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme that drivers working 7 or 8 hours a day take home £48,000 to £49,000 per annum. Assuming drivers worked a 40 hour week for 52 weeks a year (no holidays), they would need to be grossing between £31 and £32 per hour to achieve what Mead claims. Yet, Uber says its ‘Top Drivers’ gross earnings have remained relatively flat throughout 2015 at around £21 per hour.

In November, Jo Bertram and her new side kick Tom Elvidge said drivers took home between £15 and £16 after commission but tried to muddy the waters by saying driver operating costs bases varied greatly which meant our net figures could be skewed if we didn’t control costs. Of course that is a nonsense. I broke down the net numbers previously to prove, no matter how you cut the data, drivers end up well below minimum wage as a best case scenario.

But let’s focus only on the gross numbers for this post. I went back through weekly earnings to plot my gross numbers versus Uber’s declaration for ‘Top Drivers’. Uber is very careful to hide all empirical definition of what exactly a ‘Top Driver’ is. I have to assume it’s a higher stratum, greater than the average and that the data set is constant – but who knows? It is and says whatever Uber wants it to.

Still, I think comparing my own earnings to the mythical ‘Top Drivers‘ tells a useful story. You can see my earnings per hour lose pace against the top drivers all year before recovering somewhat for the busy December period. The ‘Top Drivers’ remain remarkably constant in working about 45 hours a week all year and earning £21 per hour at the start and the end of the year. This is remarkable consistency in a market that TfL has licensed an additional 12,000 drivers for in 2015 and Uber has swelled its ranks by as much as 10,000 drivers or 65% growth.

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Sadly, my earnings tell another story. I’m definitely a more competent and professional driver a year later. My satisfaction rating has remained constant throughout. My hours on the road have increased dramatically. But I still haven’t stopped the earnings slide.

I know better. Uber’s numbers are duff and cannot be trusted any more than Gareth Mead’s lies to the nation on the BBC Today Programme. It’s nothing more than a smoke screen to deny their sweatshop like engagement of drivers. But it’s a cruel trick to play on drivers: to try to pretend that the slide in earnings they see each week must be somehow their own fault because, after all, Uber’s ‘Top Drivers’ are still making it.