Tag Archives: Employment rights

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.

TfL & LPHCA surfing a tide of hate

There is much grist for the mill in TfL’s recent proposals as part of the private hire regulations review. Much of that I’ll leave for another day but there are a few disturbing issues arising that need immediate illumination.

Steve Wright, Chair LPHCA & TfL board member

Steve Wright, Chair LPHCA & TfL board member

The Wright family business and Addison Lee mouthpiece aka LPHCA (Licensed Private Hire Car Association),  submitted some ugly proposals some of which TfL have now included in the draft proposals much to their mutual shame. Take this gem from the LPHCA:

Bank accounts of licensed private hire drivers in London should be located in the United Kingdom. It is submitted that if a booking is for a private hire vehicle in London, through a London private hire operator, for a journey in the United Kingdom then financial payments to that private hire driver should be into a United Kingdom bank account. This ensures traceability of the transactions thereby mitigating potential tax evasion and / or risks of funds supporting foreign terrorist organisations. The LPHCA formally requests that this requirement be added as a condition to private hire operator licenses.

This is nothing more than xenophobic clap trap that has no place in TfL regulations nor is it any business of LPHCA members such as Addison Lee how their workers spend their hard earned income. It is an echo of the ‘dog whistle’ politics of hate Nigel Farage made in his intervention in this debate last month.

Its a fact that immigrants the world over send remittances to support families back home and its been going on for centuries. So, is every Filipino nurse, every Ghanian doctor, every Pakistani engineer, every Polish driver sending money home a suspected tax evader and terrorism sponsor? What evidence does Addison Lee and LPHCA members have to support this risk assessment? Is there are any real evidence or are these ideas driven only on prejudices?  As for tax evasion, I can attest many of us already live in a tax haven because with net incomes well below minimum wage, many of us are not anywhere near busting the taxable income threshold. Our incomes are taxable here in the UK where earned and will always be. It is entirely irrelevant where payment is deposited even if drivers choose foreign bank accounts just so as to reduce exchange and transfer costs.

The hypocrisy of Addison Lee, a Carlyle Group holding, standing behind the LPHCA on restricting driver payments abroad is staggering. Last year the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists named the Carlyle Group as one of a group of large corporations taking advantage of secret deals with Luxembourg to shelter from tax in that jurisdiction. (I guess the subtle message to pleb drivers is ‘leave the off shoring to us big boys’.) If Addison Lee is to support the LPHCA on this as a matter of principle perhaps it might put its own house in order before bringing unwarranted regulatory scrutiny to their own zero hours drivers.

Yet despite the apparent threat we pose to Treasury coffers and to national security LPHCA members are oddly attached to us. So much so, in fact, they want to have the regulator mandate that we are only allowed to work for them one operator at a time only.

A new condition be added to private hire drivers’ licences requiring their formal registration and attachment to a single private hire operator (“one driver, one operator”) at any one time. Recent events have shown private hire drivers to be working for multiple private hire operators. This has resulted in a loss of reasonable control over some private hire drivers who are working an unsafe number of hours and whose geographical movements are simply unknown. This leads to various concerns (including amongst others) public safety. The LPHCA submits private hire drivers should be required to obtain formal written permission from a sole private hire operator, at point of licensing, from whom they will receive bookings.

Yes, LPHCA members want to have ‘control’ over us despite the fact they do not want to offer us the security of full employment tenure with benefits or observe our workers rights. It is simply unacceptable that the operators would look to restrict the labour market while offering such poor pay and benefits in return. And why on earth do LPHCA members want to monitor my ‘geographical movements’?  What are the ‘various concerns’ unnamed that makes LPHCA members so fearful of their workers? I have to agree that excess hours is a risk but perhaps a more reasonable, market based solution is in order. Here’s a market innovating idea – how about competing for driver labour with better payment, benefits and conditions? Or if Addison Lee and the rest of the LPHCA member base really want to make sure their drivers are paying tax, how about employing them directly and withholding the tax for PAYE? No? I didn’t think so.

Alas these operators seek to rely on TfL as regulator to fix the market with a measure that amounts to something approaching the prevailing modern slavery definitions of forced labour. I exaggerate not. It wants flexible employment terms for itself but to fix the options for us.

Even more shocking is that these twisted ideas from LPHCA have made it into the final TfL draft regulations consultation document.

Drivers to only work for one operator at a time

A number of consultees suggested that PHV drivers should be restricted to working for only a single licensed operator at one time. This proposal would reduce the risk of drivers working excessive hours for a number of different operators. It also will assist enforcement and compliance activity because there would be more certainty as to whom a driver is undertaking bookings for at any particular time. There will be no restriction on the number of times that a driver changes the operator they are working for.

Proposal We proposed to make it a requirement that a PHV driver must be registered to a licensed operator and may only be registered to a single operator at any time.

Yet, while the LPHCA seeks regulatory force to restrict employment options, when it comes to investment in this captive block of human capital all bets are off. Addison Lee advised TfL that ‘the market should determine the appropriate training’. This tells you all you need to know of the contempt LPHCA members hold for the people who literally drive their business. Uber is not an LPHCA member and while they behave absolutely ruthlessly when it comes to earning a shilling, I’ve never heard of drivers being treated with the hatefulness exhibited in these submissions.

But the fun doesn’t stop here. Beyond the LPHCA other consultees have managed to plant even more scrutiny on top of private hire drivers. According to the TfL draft regulations consultation:

Driver and Operator licence applicants to provide National Insurance numbers and share with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

A number of consultees suggested that applicants for a PHV driver or operators licence should be required to provide their National Insurance number as part of their application. Operators are already required under regulation 13 of the Operator Regulations to record the National Insurance number of any driver carrying out bookings for them. Whilst a National Insurance number is not proof of identity, it does provide an additional safeguard to other identity checks. Furthermore, the information could be of use to the DWP to assist any relevant investigations.

Proposal We propose an application requirement to provide a National Insurance number for private hire driver and operator licences (where the operator is an individual).

So there you have it – not only are private hire drivers geograhically shady, in need of control, tax cheats and terrorism sponsors, it turns out TfL believes we are likely benefit cheats as well.

The UK already has a tough anti terrorism, tax evasion, welfare fraud and money laundering regulatory framework. There is no need for TfL’s intervention here and if chooses to do so then we must demand the same measures for taxi drivers

I realize this blog post is somewhat more reactionary than usual but I was genuinely shocked upon reading the LPHCA and TfL documents. The hateful way 87,000 innocent people are regarded by their regulator is beyond comprehension. However, it does go some way towards understanding the mindset that brings us Operation Neon and a senior TfL board members who see us only as ‘potential sex attackers’. How any of the measures discussed here will help save the taxi trade  or keep London moving is beyond me. Frankly, we have in the midst of our great city an out of control regulator and operators who are determined to act with impunity to trample over the most basic rights of workers. Private hire drivers are in urgent need of organisation and representation to turn back this tide of hate.

Uber’s war in the mind

I worked for a tech company once where much of the senior management team were none native English speakers. Naturally in tech, attracting and retaining skilled staff is of strategic importance and these executives had a worrying habit of speaking about the ‘war on talent’ rather than the ‘war for talent’. Some might call that a freudian slip, but  at Uber there has been no such ambiguity. As a scrappy start up it took a fairly simplistic, macho approach that drivers were an unnecessary and costly link in the chain that could be eventually eliminated for a more frictionless customer experience. In the meantime while Uber shoulders the driver burden, the company is determined to push down driver incomes to the level of intolerance. When asked why the company might want to upset the apple cart when customers, investors and driver are happy –  because we can – was the reply from Uber’s CFO.

But there are signs that Uber is shifting from less red meat to more vegan offerings. In Travis Kalanick’s hour long rambling at Dreamforce last week, he sought to project a softer image. Charisma not his strong point, he fumbled the opportunity according to the San Francisco Chronicle. There were a few cringe worthy moments like when Travis said:

we give our customers a high five but we give our drivers a hug

Lucky for us the London team didn’t get this memo yet though I will say an hour in the Uber office with the Driver Ops team is a bit like being seduced by Scientologists  – it induces a weird mixture of fear and inspiration.  

Other clangers dropped by Kalanick at Dreamforce included his expressed determination for Uber to ‘give back’ to the communities it serves. He talked about:

celebrating the city and the officials that have helped Uber

Ouch! That sounds like political patronage at best and illegal bribery at worst. Of course the flip side of this is the hair dryer treatment Uber is willing to give any public official that doesn’t do their bidding. Just ask Mayor DeBlasio in New York or Rudi Vervoort in Brussels. In both cases Uber has chosen to up end our legal and democratic processes through the unleashing of consumer power with customers in fear of losing cheap Uber rides only made possible in the first place by driver exploitation. This type of political activism is most offensive and is completely one sided. Why not ask citizens about more than cheap fares? Let’s ask them if they care about safety, driver’s rights, public transport or congestion.This type of corporate manipulation of consumer power for corporate gain is truly insidious and frankly, cultish.  

Screenshot_2015-09-27-03-21-22But rather than confronting the issues raised by drivers to Uber in courts around the world, Kalanick used the Dreamforce stage to portray himself as a saviour. Speaking about the evils of the taxi industry before Uber he said:

Taxi drivers are good people, they are just treated badly……….the reason we got started is because the taxi industry was broken, it wasn’t working for either the driver or rider. ….. 2 drivers shared the taxi rental cost of $90,000 a year and for that you get the privilege to be left impoverished.

Yet drivers are left more impoverished than ever on the Uber platform and guess where that $90,000 margin goes when taxi drivers move over?

Still, I was heartened to hear Kalanick say:

15 minutes is too long for you to go pick someone up because that’s down time for you where you’re not making money.

The London Uber team didn’t get that memo either.

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And yet no matter how hard Uber corporate tries to play nice the mask inevitably slips and the nasty leaks out. Uber’s corporate culture somehow suffers from a delusional war in the mind. It sees conflict between its stakeholders where none really exists. In the exchange below, Uber’s chief lobbyist in the wake of a government decision to reject employment rights for drivers seems to think that the government is neglecting the interests of consumers. MacGann needs to quickly learn that far from their being a polarisation of the two, in reality, when drivers are happy, riders will be too. No hugs required just fair play. Join us.  belgian employees

Uber drivers need no instruction on innovation from Mark McGann

mark mcgann

Late last year Uber announced it was beefing up its PR and lobbying efforts by hiring former Obama election campaign manager David Plouffe in the United States and former Weber Shandwick and NYSE Euronext PR maven Mark Mc Gann in Europe. Presumably this duo will labour in the trenches forwarding Travis Kalanick’s notion of ‘principled confrontation‘ or corporate disobedience in plainer terms.

After the announcement of GMB’s intent to fight for UK Uber driver’s worker rights the company lost no time in wheeling out McGann in front of the TV cameras. The counterpoint was elegant in its one-two punch. First the spreading of FUD threatening that asserting rights would deprive drivers of what they love most about Uber – the flexibility. Not so.

Next McGann sought to go over the heads of drivers to appeal straight to the establishment with this statement on BBC TV News.

You have to help people with the change technology brings to the modern to economy, to how people work, to how people are employed. We are engaging with government and parties here in the United Kingdom to contribute to that debate.

But not with their own drivers apparently. Well no matter because drivers need no help from McGann on adjusting to the modern economy. They have already embraced working the app and love the flexibility working for Uber allows. Indeed, many of us have a much longer and deeper experience in technology than McGann.

However, Uber cannot hide behind a software app to justify exploitative levels of remuneration, the wholesale transfer of all operating risk while at the same time controlling prices and commissions and reserving the right to dismiss drivers from the platform at will.

There is nothing inevitable about the flexibility new technology affords necessitating a return to 19th century working rights with below minimal wage and zero security of hours or tenure.

While drivers are moving forward to embrace the best technology has to offer it is Uber that is looking longingly to a long gone past where the gang master set the lowest possible wages and ruled over workers who feared losing their job on a whim. While McGann seduces Whitehall and Brussels with tales of transforming innovation, drivers need to get the truth of matter into the public policy domain. Software innovation should serve the economy and most definitely not vice versa

GMB is fighting for a more progressive future than this for all of us.