While there’s little doubt that the Uber ride sharing app has changed the way people travel, particularly in urban centers, Uber’s track record indicates that it’s far from a squeaky clean company.
In the past the tech firm has been embodied in scandals concerning sexual assault, manipulation of other rideshare company systems, and had its self-driving car test programme cut short after the car killed a pedestrian.
Now Uber is copping heat from a selection of New Zealand drivers in a class action lawsuit that’s gaining global attention. Two unions representing a group of over 20 drivers, First Union and E Tu, are aiming to change the way drivers are legally classified from contractors to employees.
As contractors instead of employees, the unions believe that Uber drivers are being denied a range of minimum employment entitlements, including the minimum wage, sick leave, and help in the case of unfair dismissals. In a study the unions conducted, 53 per cent of respondents said they earned less than the minimum wage after expenses.
“The court has to look at the reality of the way drivers are working and the relationship they have with the company and decide if that looks more like an employment relationship than the relationship of a contractor or a client,” First Union’s Anita Rosentreter said, as reported by The Guardian.
“We have an opportunity in Aotearoa to get ahead of the worst excesses of the gig economy and learn from ample overseas evidence that employment laws need to be fit for purpose, not prone to exploitation by companies like Uber.”
History is not on the side of the Kiwi unions. A legal precedent case in 2020 where it was ruled that Uber drivers are not employees. In a statement, a Uber New Zealand spokesperson said that the precedent case was consistent with cases in Australia and further overseas.
The judge of the precedent case reportedly justified the outcome by saying that Uber drivers have control of their wages, in that their pay could fluctuate based on direct choices, and that their pay could grow if they lowered their costs.
Rosentreter clearly disagrees with the judge. “I find it unfathomable that someone thinks that is a compelling argument,” she said.