Tag Archives: human rights

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.

The dirty war against Uber drivers at Heathrow

Local residents in the Heathrow area are often as angry as wasps in October. They suffer the poorest air quality in London, live under the Damocles sword of a third runway which could wipe out whole villages – even graveyards and they suffer incessant noise from early morning to darkest night. The latest cause for complaint is an influx of Uber drivers plotting near Heathrow as they rest and wait for a booking back out of the airport.

I don’t blame the residents for their upset at having their streets congested with far many more cars than they were designed for and every spare parking space occupied. I can tell you it is no fun for us drivers either.

Last December Uber announced the introduction of a virtual queuing system for drivers. This at least prevented drivers from overcrowding the departure drop off ramps as they jockeyed to be at the closest geo location to the customer ping which is how Uber jobs are usually assigned. Uber introduced geo locked out zones so that drivers could not wait anywhere on airport property. I understand this measure was taken after Heathrow airport threatened to ban Uber from the airport entirely.

The results were entirely predictable – Heathrow’s pressure on Uber served only to export this problem into the local community rather than finding a sensible solution on site. For its part, Uber’s Director of Operations, Alex Cappy personally told me last December 2014 that the virtual queuing system would be upgraded within a week or two to make the driver’s position in the queue and predicted job time transparent. 10 months later and Uber still hasn’t bothered to make these changes despite the introduction of other useless features such as having to answer ‘are you sure you want to log off’ after you have selected to log off. Other features have been added that the customer may enjoy but add more complexity for the driver include the Spotify streaming feature. In short, Uber has devoted plenty of resources to add customer features and maximize driver capacity on the streets but done absolutely nothing to add features to make  the drivers job easier or safer.

Now, after renewed pressure from residents, groups stoked up by Addison Lee mouthpiece and Wright family business – the LPHCA – we’re on the move again. The geo lock out map has been changed and drivers have been driven out of the usual waiting spots such as Spouts Lane. The changes will do nothing but export the problem once more from one neighborhood to another. It is true that, like anyone else, we can use the Long Term car park for free for up to 2 hours but what happens when the two hours are up? What do we do when the LT car park is closed later in the evenings as it usually is. I often parked in the lower Bath Road towards Longford village and paid for parking but alas I’m now pushed out of that non residential area by geo lock out and must instead park in residential streets north of the Bath Road. How does that help anyone?

So what is behind all this? Some pretty nasty characters who don’t mind denigrating the good name of hard working drivers to further their own greed aims. Enter the LPHCA who have engaged Clifford Chance to literally dig up the dirt. LPHCA have form when it comes to hitting below the belt. In a legal filing leaked (no pun intended) to the Business Insider, the LPHCA accuses Uber drivers of:

‘sleeping in cars…. blocking residents driveways, garages and cul-de-sacs and defecating or urinating in gardens’

Clifford Chance

None of this is true, but if it were I wonder how Clifford Chance might know that a driver is likely to urinate or defecate but apparently not both at the same time? I digress.

This twaddle was further circulated yesterday by a Boris Johnson devotee who had the cheek to imagine an unclean driver with unclean hands and then just a few tweets later piously claim she doesn’t like people who sneer at the poor.

angela 1

angela 2

But lest I too be labelled as being a hypocrite, I must confess that, much to my eternal shame, my own union branch GMB ProDrivers has also criticized drivers and fielded local resident complaints. It’s not a position I agree with, have protested loudly about and hope never to see repeated. Unions must always support workers in distress and believe me, this is a distressed and distressing situation.

I have spent many, many hours on Spouts Lane and elsewhere at Heathrow. I have met only good, honorable, hard working people working with dignity to support their families against the economic odds. I have never witnessed any driver littering let alone defecating or urinating. Neither, I would hazard a guess, have any of the blowhards from LPHCA  or any other trade organisation including LCDC members who too have perpetuated this myth. I have personally never seen one worthy person from any of these organisations come and talk to the drivers personally to investigate the situation and hear our side of the story. But I guess we’re simply collateral damage between Uber and its competitors. It is nothing more than dog whistle politics of racism.

And even supposing for one second this is true, what is the root cause? Drivers are virtually kettled into Geo Locations assigned by Uber at its discretion only. Heathrow Airport cuts us none of the slack afforded Black Cabs, we are not allowed to pick up on the arrival ramps just so Heathrow Airport Limited can collect £3.50 for a 30 minute window to pick up the passenger. As for drivers sleeping in their cars – so what? Would LPHCA rather a driver didn’t take a rest break and drove himself and passengers into a lamppost from fatigue induced hypnosis? There is an easy fix for this problem – Uber, LPHCA and TfL should restrict working hours for all private hire drivers. I’d like to see if Addison Lee and LPHCA would be willing to back that.

Finally, let us deal with the toilet problem. Even if this was true which it most certainly is not – what of the indignity of a worker forced to endure working conditions without appropriate rest breaks & toilet facilities? Unions the world over have rightly complained about the indignity of workers having to endure a lack of toilet facilities at work. How is the situation at Spouts Lane any different, where is the chorus of complaint over these symptoms of the most horrendous working conditions?

As for LPHCA, Clifford Chance and other supposed trade leaders – they all should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves in further exploiting the very poorest in their dirty proxy war against a very wealthy competitor.

Uber should be ashamed for not deploying one penny of investment in it’s much vaunted technology to make the most essential of improvements of the driver app. In simply knowing the size of the queue you are joining, we drivers can make a rational choice to wait or go and thereby manage their toileting accordingly. It is a self regulating system, if the queue is too long to join you don’t clog up residential streets to blindly join a queue that could be 5 minutes or 5 hours.

Heathrow Airport Limited are far from blameless either. The airport is an intermodal transport hub and their customers need to arrive and depart the airport by road or rail. We are only at the airport to serve our mutual customers. Uber carries thousands of Heathrow Airport customers in and out of the airport everyday generating millions of pounds in revenue for the airport.

We deserve to be able to do our job in dignity and without harassment, indignity and racist denigration. Uber, TfL and Heathrow Airport Limited need to sit down and find a rational solution even if it costs one or the other money to do so. And here is a novel solution for all — how about actually consulting drivers about this?  Passing the buck to one local community after another and scape goating drivers is not a solution to anything.

Andrea Pezzi and his Uber driver thief

The news of a drunk Tory student blowing £300 on taxi home from the party conference in Manchester to London this week was amusing but behind the story lies a serious and unresolved question of driver privacy. Its a matter that has been raised at the highest level of Uber UK for more than a year and yet problems rumble on. I’m sure driver of this hapless Tory delegate didn’t expect to see his name, picture and performance rating plastered all over the daily papers including the Manchester Evening News as below. Did the Tory rider or any of the other publishers bother to ask his permission?   (I’ve redacted the identity for the purposes of this post but the Manchester Evening News did not.)

Manchester evening news

Too often newsrooms, short of money to generate meaningful content instead trawl twitter and facebook for amusing Uber rider complaints and make a story of them. In the case of the Manchester story it was the hungover Tory that decided to post the driver details which was later picked up and republished by the Manchester Evening News.

Customers, without having a direct telephone line to Uber customer service, frequently turn to social media to make their complaints. The driver carries more the brunt of their anger over missed pick up or no show cancellations. In fact the driver has almost control over the rules and when or how these costs are applied to the customer. This is an entirely automated process under control of Uber alone.

A great number of us have complained about the behaviour of the @UberUKSupport twitter account staff who always fail to correct the mistaken impression that a driver may done something wrong or dishonest. It has been repeatedly pointed out that this opacity seeds distrust between the riding and driving Uber community which can lead to unnecessary confrontations. Unfortunately this message has fell on deaf ears at Uber.

Here is another horrendous example of an abuse of privacy. Its well known to all that Uber has had a massive security breach with account details on sale via the dark web. I’ve had a customer myself who turned out to be using a fraudulent account. There was no way I could or would have known until Uber deducted the fare from my income. I demanded it be restored and it was thankfully. I’ve kept the drivers name as it provides context to the abusive comment the user made when publishing his image on line.


Last year Uber’s regional general manager, Jo Bertram, offered some soothing if vague assurances on the privacy issue in emails passed to me:

…I am very disturbed by these incidents over the last few days. Please note that the rider has now removed the photo in question, and we will consider further action if we see any repeated misused of the service…….we have repeatedly asked Metro to remove the image of the driver or blur this out. We are also looking into any other ways that we can prevent this kind of thing happening in future.

But Uber’s UK Director of Driver Operations Alex Cappy, in the same emails, betrayed a sense that we drivers were going to have to fend for ourselves:

….we have taken action with Metro News and urged them to blur the photo, and continue to follow up on this matter. In addition, we are working with our engineering team in San Francisco to see what other methods we can use to protect a drivers photo. When it comes to Twitter, we have seen that action is taken more swiftly when complaints are raised by the individual impacted, rather than a third party. If you ever see photos posted on Twitter, I would urge you to log the issue with them directly.

Just imagine how tawdry this is going to get if every driver has to patrol the internet to guard his privacy. Should drivers use their own accounts, with an audience of all their nearest and dearest, to defend accusations of misconduct from misdirected and disgruntled riders? As for the engineers in San Francisco, I guess they’ll get back to us some time later maybe never.

But drivers have no power or leverage in this relationship. Uber, on the other hand, controls access to the platform and presides over all refund decisions. Posting driver details in this way is a very clear breach of the terms of service legally agreed between Uber and the rider so why won’t Uber enforce the rules?

Nevertheless I picked up the gauntlet Alex Cappy threw down and tried to reason with just such a passenger who accuses a driver on twitter of theft. I didn’t get very far.

Untitled picture redacted

Untitled picture 3

Untitled picture missing

Untitled picture fina

The fact that this content persists in twitter 11 days after the fact tells me that in all likelihood Uber will have refunded but not privately insisted on a takedown of the photo. We know they have engaged with Pezzi on twitter and email. But Uber have failed make any public defence of the driver nor publicly demanded that the rider remove the content. That, I’m afraid, is simply not a good enough defense of driver, ‘partner’ privacy.

Andrea Pezzi is an extremely well known media figure in Italy who ought to know better the boundaries of what is fair to publish which makes his actions here all the more objectionable. He accuses his driver of stealing to the tune of £5. As CEO of his media company OVO, Pezzi took his company into bankruptcy in 2006 to shelter from €5 million in debt before re-emerging as OVO Italy srl. I trust the bankruptcy courts in Italy have  given him a little more respect and benefit of doubt than he has given this unfortunate driver he has shamed on twitter.

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.


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

Dear Save the Children, save our children from an Uber ride to poverty

An open letter to Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children. I’ll post a reply if I ever get one.

Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive, Save the Children

Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive, Save the Children

Dear Justin

Firstly, as an Uber driver may I commend you and, indeed, Uber for your recent initiative to support Syrian refugees. I was not asked to participate as a driver myself but I did receive an invite to donate to Save the Children from Uber. Unfortunately, I am unable to do so right now for reasons that will become apparent. However, I do question the timing and appropriateness of this particular partnership given Uber’s role in driving so many London families into poverty.

Our government has not exactly set the pace in Europe for a response to this humanitarian crisis so it’s important that non state actors step into the breach. While some question why we in Britain should help the Syrians when so many here are suffering economically I have no truck with that line of thinking. The refugees have been driven from their homes by war and atrocity and we must hold out a hand of welcome.

I’m aware that on the day of the Uber / Save the Children campaign you were in parliament appearing before the House of Commons Public Accounts committee with peers apologising for more aggressive fundraising practices of your sector now consigned to the past. It is curious then that you and your board of trustees (I understand your board of trustees sign off on all corporate partnerships) would approve a partnership with Uber at this particular time. While the behaviour of over aggressive chuggers & cold callers needs curbing, by your own definition, Uber is actively contributing to an acceleration in UK child poverty. This is something that surely must be entirely at odds with your organisation’s mission.

Uber donation

From Uber weekly update email to drivers

I’m a member of GMB and I’m very grateful for their support in a legal case I and colleagues are bringing against Uber to force the recognition of our worker rights. Last month I worked 53 hours per week for Uber and yet earned just £5.03 per hour. Currently there are approximately 15,000 Uber cars in London and the company has set a target to increase that to 45,000 by next spring thanks to a laissez faire approach taken by Transport for London in allowing the unlimited issue of licenses regardless of the human cost. Drivers are working increasing hours away from their families to make ends meet and battling fatigue is an ever present struggle. There is suffering too amongst London’s iconic Black Taxi fleet whose drivers report a decline in incomes in the range of 40% which must surely be already causing serious social difficulties.

Now, I don’t believe anyone is in favour of curbing the development of a fair and free market for taxi and private hire in London. Nor is anyone realistically calling for a roll back of technology. In fact, contrary to the prevailing media narrative, most drivers embrace these technologies as a welcome way to expand and serve our market. What is not welcome is the misuse of technology to offer consumers our services below a fair economic rate which is driving many into poverty. Your own website defines poverty as those earning £15,000 per year per household assuming a couple supporting two children. Similarly, the Child Poverty Action Group says a cause of poverty is:

Low paid work: many low wage jobs offer no prospect of progression (‘low pay, low prospects’); others are insecure, providing sporadic and unpredictable incomes (‘low pay, no pay’). As a result they are often nothing more than poverty traps.

My current annual Uber income based on August earnings is in the range of just £10,500, hence, I am unable to meet the requested donation to Save the Children circulated by Uber to its drivers. And the situation is about to get much worse for drivers, many of whom rely on working tax credits. Incomes will continue to decline as TfL issues more and more private hire licenses to meet Uber’s growth targets and meanwhile the government plans to cut working tax credits and free school meals. In addition, firms such as Uber process all transactions off shore which denies the HMRC of tax payments essential to support our education and NHS systems. It’s a perfect storm of deprivation and it’s hard to imagine a more powerful accelerator of poverty in the UK today than Uber.

So what is the solution? One of the policy solutions Save the Children proposes is:

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

I couldn’t agree more and when our GMB backed legal action succeeds we will have some assurance that Uber drivers will at least earn the legal minimum wage and Uber would have greater responsibilities for operational safety. If TfL, as a government organised body, could be persuaded to take action now to limit the number of licenses issued so as to maintain reasonable income levels this would offer greater economic security for taxi and private hire drivers. It would also contribute to greater public safety with less risk of driver fatigue and cleaner air for London’s children.

Would you please lend your organisation’s support of our efforts for economic justice for private hire and taxi drivers and call on Transport for London and Uber to do the right thing? Uber drivers have selflessly helped Save the Children assist Syrian refugees. Black Taxi drivers have so often helped our war veterans and sick children. Now we need you to help all of us by speaking out in support of implementation of your own policy propositions. 100,000 London families are counting on you.

Best Regards

Stay safe and Uber with an apple

Most Uber drivers I know are brilliant, on the hoof, mathematicians. They know exactly how much money they need to make each day to cover Uber’s commission fees, Uber’s network charges, fuel, insurance, maintenance, licensing and so on. Then they will have another daily number in mind beyond costs for the income they need to keep their families above the breadline. Unfortunately, the working day required to reach this minimum required income number is getting longer and longer.

Last month I netted £5.03 per hour compared to Uber’s taking of £2.65 for every hour I worked. I’ve worked up to 90 hours per week while still trying to have a home life. I also tend to work nights more as I find I can complete trips faster due to less congestion which means more income per hour. Over time a chronic lack of sleep and exercise takes a toll on the body and it can be a struggle sometimes for some of us to stay awake behind the wheel.

Here are my tips for Uber drivers to manage fatigue risk:

  1. Rest. If you feel sleepy on the road you must end the journey immediately, pull over and sleep. Help you rider re book, explain the situation and the reason for your tiredness. Any reasonable passenger will understand the seriousness of the situation, will cooperate and appreciate your professionalism. Getting yourself or the rider killed or seriously injured is not worth any financial gain you are chasing.
  2. Join GMB Pro Drivers. As the largest trade union in the country, GMB is challenging Uber in the courts to respect our statutory workers rights. When successful this does not mean we will lose any of the flexibility and independence we love about working for Uber. But it will mean Uber must ensure we earn at least the minimum wage of £6.50 per hour and must also take responsibility for occupational safety. Private hire drivers are almost 75,000 strong in London but we must better organize to ensure we all get a fair and safe deal so that 20 hour days can be consigned to history.
  3. Understand your body. We all have different profiles, some are morning people and some are night owls. Working and eating at irregular times throws the body’s circadian rhythm out of whack. It’s important to know what contributes to our fatigue, to predict our body’s reaction and to know when we’ve had enough. There are a number of brilliant, easy to use apps out there to help keep track and to understand your own unique circadian rhythm. I really like Jeppesen’s CrewAlert designed for pilots but just as usable for us. I like the holistic approach Jeppesen take with fatigue monitoring and management. I promise you will learn a lot about your fatigue limitations with this app though it does cost $30. I am trialing Drowsy Driver at the moment and I really like the idea of facial monitoring to detect signs of fatigue while you are driving. It’s free and could be a great supplement rather than replacement to CrewAlert.

These are just my few personal tips on fatigue risk management and I hope it’s helpful. For our own sake, for the sake of our customers and other road users I’d dearly love to see TfL as regulator, as well as Uber, Addison Lee and all other operators pay some serious attention to occupational safety. Sadly I’ve seen precious little interest in doing so yet drivers are being pushed beyond human endurance by the actions of the regulator and operators just to eek out a modest living.

Tfl’s neglect of private hire driver safety is especially egregious since it unleashes Operation Neon in the name of safety to prosecute drivers not wearing their badge or parking in the wrong place. But for all TfL care, we can drive around the clock, underpaid, in an over supplied market they have licensed without any regard for the consequences for driver or public safety. TfL greedily licenses upwards of 1,000 new licenses a month to feed Uber’s ambition to grow its platform from the current 15,000 drivers to 45,000 by next spring. It’s a nice little earner for TfL but at what cost to public safety?

Another part of the explanation for a lack of attention to safety by operators is perhaps a cynical attempt by some to push all operational risk to the driver alone. The following for example is from Uber’s current Terms of Service to its customers.


Finally, here’s an old pilots trick to stay awake when those eyes get heavy: eat an apple. It works for me. I don’t know why but something about eating an apple always perks me up and helps get me home safely. If you’re a regular Uber rider you might consider bringing an extra apple in case your driver is looking a little drowsy. It could save both your lives.


Credit: Flickr, Mark Seton

Open letter to Sadiq Khan: as the GMB candidate why are you not supporting a GMB campaign for worker rights?

Update: Sadiq Khan supports!



Dear Mr Khan

I am a GMB member currently working for Uber in London as a TfL licensed private hire driver. I have followed your Mayoral campaign with interest and I understand you are the GMB candidate of choice. I am impressed by your track record in human rights legal cases which, over years, seemed to have focused on civil rights issues and police over reach. But I need not tell you that human rights also extend beyond civil rights to economic and labour rights and this is where I have some reservations about your candidacy though I have not yet voted. 

Last month I worked an average 53 hour week and yet only earned £5.03 per hour while driving for Uber. As TfL continue to mint 500 new licenses a week to fuel the Uber machine, us drivers see our incomes steadily fall. This means we have to work more hours to cover our fixed costs and to make the absolute income levels needed to support our families. Neither TfL nor Uber control our hours and all the operational risk is is our own. This is a dangerous situation not only for increasingly fatigued drivers but also for London’s travelling public and pedestrians. You should also know also that I was assaulted by a customer while working for Uber yet it took the firm 10 weeks to cooperate with the police to handover details to identify the perpetrators for police interview.

My colleagues and I, with kind support of GMB, are bringing a case to Employment Tribunal to force Uber to respect our worker rights. These statutory rights, which fall short of employment rights, would entitle us to earn the minimum wage, holiday pay and place an occupational safety obligation on Uber. These are modest rights but it would help stabilize the market by establishing a minimum wage floor and it would also obligate Uber not to threaten public safety by ensuring drivers have adequate rest. This stabilization is not only good for us but it is also good for the taxi trade as we lessen the effects of unfair competition from private hire drivers operating effectively below reasonable cost.  


My concern is, though my colleagues have been in touch directly with your campaign team and with you via twitter asking for your support, you have not yet supported our GMB campaign even though you are the GMB candidate. Why is that?

I am worried that some of the Mayoral candidates have watched how Uber conducted a campaign against Mayor DeBlasio in New York and worried that something similar could happen to them in London should they challenge Uber. Many of us therefore are seriously worried about the damage to our democracy if election candidates are intimidated by a company not yet even publicly listed and controlled by the likes of Goldman Sachs. Given these concerns, I ask for you to clarify your position on Uber and to publicly back our campaign for workers rights. Will you do so?

Mr Khan, please keep hope alive for 80,000 Londoners and their families. Please publicly support our campaign for fairness. 

Best Regards

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.

Myth busting: worker rights should not mean an end to flexible working for Uber drivers

This week the GMB announced it would take Uber to UK employment Tribunal to protect worker rights currently denied by Uber to it’s drivers. But if successful there really need be no change in current working practices for drivers. All that needs to change is that Uber must ensure drivers:

  • earn at least minimum wage
  • have safety protections to ensure no excessive hours and adequate rest breaks
  • have protection from discrimination
  • do not suffer unfair deductions from income
  • have paid holiday

The standard of workers rights contested in the claim are so minimal one wonders what all the fuss is. Surely, a decent company like Uber with backing from the likes of Goldman Sachs would not want to deny this to anyone?

Rather than address the issue at hand, Uber’s PR crew spread fear about an apocalyptic end to life for drivers as we know it.  Commenting in the FT Uber UK said:

One of the main reasons drivers use Uber is because they love being their own boss. As employees, drivers would drive set shifts, earn a fixed hourly wage, and lose the ability to drive elsewhere as well as the personal flexibility they most value.

Of course this is a complete red herring. There is nothing about this legal challenge that requires Uber to prohibit drivers from continuing to work flexibly. There is nothing in the law that would require Uber to have drivers work set shifts, earn a fixed wage and drive exclusively for Uber. Nothing.

In fact, Nigel McKay of Leigh Day, GMB’s instructed lawyers for this case said also in the FT:

You can have workers engaged flexibly, but they are workers, and they’re still entitled to basic rights.

We know Uber must have declared war because their first casualty appears to be the truth.