On the Supreme Court ruling against Uber, and the response from couriers.
[From a faceb**k post written in Feb 2021]
Scrolling through a few Deliveroo/Uber Eats groups on fb to see the response to the Supreme Court rulling that Uber drivers are employees. Here’s a few quick notes.
(The ruling only applies to Uber Taxi drivers, and even then it’s disputed whether it will apply to all Uber Drivers, just those who were involved in the court case, or just those who were signed up at a certain time etc. So all of this discussion is based on speculation )
Only around a third of workers* are in favour of being made employees. Worries include:
- seeing a pay cut. earnings can vary massively between cities etc, but many riders still earn a decent amount above minimum wage, especially the case for those who work peak hours.
- Getting booted out. It currently benefits the platforms to have as many couriers signed up, and online, as possible, but not so much if they’re paying us hourly. The platforms already have a habit of terminating couriers on spurious grounds and minor infractions.
- Loss of freedoms/flexibility on the job. While there is no legal reason that we couldn’t have rights AND flexibility, there is also absolutely nothing guaranteeing that Uber allow us to keep flexibility. At the very minimum, it would be a return to shifts rather than free-login as it works at the moment. On top of this, many suspect our ability to choose which orders to take would be taken away. Both of these ‘freedoms’ are masively valued by the majority couriers. Uber will want to recoup their losses somewhere and workers (reasonably)think it will come from them.
- Nobody is under any illusions about the state of low pay/ zero hours jobs, or the rights given to employees. The prospect of holiday pay has little resonance with people who already see their earnings fluctuate massively on a week to week basis.
- a crude psychological attachment to being ‘self-employed’, rather than an employee.
One response is to say that the workers have fallen for the bosses propaganda about freedom and flexibility, and as such fail to see their true interests. There’s definitely a degree of truth to this ‘false conciousness’ argument, but I think that trying to use it to explain away all of the workers concerns is condescending. From my long conversations with both, Deliveroo couriers understand their own material situation, and their realistic job prospects, better than the academics who study them and the odd journalists that champion the cause.
I’ve got a lot of respect for James Farrar of the App Drivers & Couriers Union** and the other organisers who have brought this to court, and I don’t mean to sound dismissive of what is genuinely a big and positive ruling, and I’m interested to see how it all pans out. The biggest benefit of employee status as far as I’m concerned is union recognition, and a stronger basis for taking collective action and winning pay increases/guarantees in future.
I haven’t investigated how Uber taxi drivers are responding to the ruling, but I imagine there is a similar range to food couriers.
* Using ‘workers’ in the common sense definition, rather than any legal definition.
** I previously stated James Farrar was still invovled with the IWGB ‘United Private Hire Drivers’ (UPHD), but this was incorrect.
[in a comment below]
One last quick comment -
I think that the threat of court cases such as this are the reasons that the platforms give us the flexibility we do have on the job, such as the ability to reject orders without being penalised, as well as being (relatively) lax about ocasional fuck ups etc. So even those who really like being self-employed benefit from the actions taken by the IWGB.