Ride-hailing firm Uber has been ordered by an Amsterdam court to reinstate five British drivers and one Dutch driver with compensation after finding that they were unlawfully dismissed for fraud by the app’s algorithm.
The drivers involved in the case – which was brought by the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) and its associated data trust Worker Info Exchange (WEI) – argued that they had been wrongly accused of fraudulent activity because of mistaken information, which led to them being fired by Uber’s algorithm.
London-based driver Abdifatah Abdalla, for example, claimed he was informed of his account’s deactivation after Uber, without providing evidence, accused him of sharing his account when the app detected two sign-in attempts from different locations.
This led to his private hire licence being revoked by Transport for London (TfL) a month later, leaving him unable to drive for alternative ride-hailing apps such as Kapten and Bolt.
In a default judgment published 14 April, the district court of Amsterdam (where Uber’s European headquarters is located) said the firm should reinstate the drivers because the decision to deactivate their accounts and terminate their employment was “based solely on automated processing, including profiling”.
It added that the drivers should be reinstated by Uber within a week, which will be forced to pay a penalty of €5,000 for each day it fails to comply, up to a maximum of €50,000.
With each of the six drivers being awarded compensation, Uber must now also pay out a combined total of just under €99,000.
“For the Uber drivers robbed of their jobs and livelihoods, this has been a dystopian nightmare come true. They were publicly accused of ‘fraudulent activity’ on the back of poorly governed use of bad technology,” said WEI director James Farrar. “This case is a wake-up call for lawmakers about the abuse of surveillance technology now proliferating in the gig economy.
“In the aftermath of the recent UK Supreme Court ruling on workers’ rights, gig economy platforms are hiding management control in algorithms.”
However, because Uber failed to appear in court on 24 February to contest the case, the judgment (which became public on 14 April) was issued by default. The company claims it did not appear in court because, due to ADCU representatives not following the proper legal procedure, it only found out about the existence of the case last week.
“With no knowledge of the case, the court handed down a default judgment in our absence, which was automatic and not considered,” said an Uber spokesperson, adding that the firm would be seeking to have the decision set aside.
“Only weeks later, the very same court found comprehensively in Uber’s favour on similar issues in a separate case. We will now contest this judgment.”
In mid-March 2021, the same court ordered Uber to give two drivers accused of “fraudulent activity” access to the data it used to make the decisions, but found that there was enough human intervention to rule that its decisions were not completely automated.
According to Anton Ekker, the ADCU’s lawyer in the case, he was surprised that Uber did not show up to court, claiming he took steps to notify them.
“Both the writ of summons and the judgment were served by bailiffs to the headquarters of Uber in Amsterdam. I also informed Uber before I brought the case that I would take legal action if they would not reverse the deactivation of my clients,” he said.
On 12 April, the City of London Magistrates’ Court separately ordered TfL to reinstate Abdalla’s private hire licence, concluding that “no investigation has taken place”, and further criticising the regulators “willingness to accept” the evidence provided by Uber.
“I am deeply concerned about the complicit role Transport for London has played in this catastrophe. They have encouraged Uber to introduce surveillance technology as a price for keeping their operator’s licence, and the result has been devastating for a TfL-licensed workforce that is 94% BAME,” said ADCU president Yaseen Aslam.
Responding to the Magistrates’ Court decision, a TfL spokesperson said: “The safety of the travelling public is our top priority and where we are notified of cases of driver identity fraud, we take immediate licensing action so that passenger safety is not compromised.
“We always require the evidence behind an operator’s decision to dismiss a driver and review it along with any other relevant information as part of any decision to revoke a licence. All drivers have the right to appeal a decision to remove a licence through the Magistrates’ Court.”
*By Sebastian Klovig Skelton, Computer Weekly*