Uber’s boss for Northern Europe has said that other ride-hailing companies in the UK need to recognize their drivers as workers.
Jamie Heywood, general manager for the region that includes the UK, said in an interview that Uber’s ride-hailing and private car hire operators in the UK, its biggest non-US market, should be required to move their drivers to ‘worker’ status like it did.
In a UK Supreme Court ruling against the company, Uber was forced to categorize all its drivers in the country as workers, providing a minimum wage and benefits like holiday pay and pension contributions.
“On the driver voice side, we’re having some good and fruitful conversations about how we implement the worker benefits,” Heywood said.
“On the other side is making sure that all the other operators step up and make the changes that I think they really have to do on the basis of the Supreme Court decision.”
In May, Uber reached an agreement to recognize the private care hire union GMB, which would represent drivers.
GMB has echoed the call, urging other ride-hailing companies operating in the UK to give their drivers worker status. GMB has called for licenses issued to these companies in London to be dependent on workers’ rights. Some of Uber’s rivals in the massive London market include Bolt and Ola.
Heywood said that while the Supreme Court ruling was specific to Uber drivers, its determination should be applied across the board.
“The other operators, and not just the other app-based operators, but the model that we operate is very common in the taxi and private hire industry in general. I think when they look at those details, although it’s specifically Uber drivers who brought the case, those things will be true to them. We operate the same model as them and therefore they need to step up.”
Heywood said that Uber’s relationship with GMB has been “a fairly difficult one” but the Supreme Court decision and subsequent agreement has created a clearer path to work together.
He added that Uber has no intention of engaging with unions other than GMB.
“We don’t see a need, we think GMB has the track record, the expertise and credibility to do all the things that give drivers good representation, we don’t see there’s a need to recognize other unions beyond them.”
Uber’s recent changes only extend to its drivers and does not alter the status of couriers for Uber Eats, its food delivery unit.
Last month, arch rival Deliveroo secured a win in court that sought to challenge the self-employed status of delivery riders.
Heywood said Uber Eats’ couriers fall under that same category and the Deliveroo court decision validates that position. He added that discussions around delivery riders and ride-hailing drivers shouldn’t be intermingled.
“The Deliveroo decision has refocused a debate that was becoming a gig economy debate and gig worker debate back into where I think it sits, where it’s a taxi or PHC [private hire car] debate,” Heywood said.
“The question is whether you can be a taxi or private hire vehicle operator, looking after rider safety, looking after driver safety without giving your drivers worker benefits and the answer is I don’t think you can.”
Uber’s hurdles with drivers and unions over employment or contractor status doesn’t end in the UK as the company and the industry as a whole face challenges around Europe.
The UK is unique in that it provides for worker status unlike in many other European countries where a driver is considered either an employee or self-employed. This rigid system will present challenges to the ride-hailing giant in navigating cases country by country.