Uber treats drivers like Victorian "sweated labour", says Frank Field in gig economy report

Rebecca Smith
Field wants TfL to make Uber banish
Field wants TfL to make Uber banish "sweated labour" from how it operates (Source: Getty)

Frank Field might be more commonly known as one of the thorns in Sir Philip Green's side, but Uber might now have a bone to pick with him too.

The Labour MP and chair of the Work and Pensions Committee has uploaded a report to his site analysing the working relationship between Uber and its drivers, following testimony from 83 drivers, with the majority depending on Uber for their income.

And he doesn't pull any punches. The report, co-authored with his parliamentary researcher Andrew Forsey, flags four aspects of working life with Uber which it says "bear a close resemblance with what the Victorians would have called 'sweated labour'".

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  1. Drivers are at risk of taking home less than a third of the National Living Wage.
  2. Drivers find it increasingly difficult to obtain work, and must therefore stay on the road for extended periods of time to make a living, as Uber is recruiting an unlimited number of new drivers each day from which it gains higher rates of commission.
  3. Almost all of the risks that are inherent within the private hire industry are unloaded onto the drivers, with very little in the way of emergency support being offered by Uber.
  4. Drivers do not have the freedom to determine their own working patterns, as Uber holds the power to remove work from them if certain conditions are not met.

Field warns that unless changes are made, a growing number of people will find themselves subject to sweated labour "toiling through anxiety and insecurity for unsafe lengths of time".

Drivers at the tax-hailing app firm said they felt forced to work very long hours.

One said: "Due to the extremely high number of Uber drivers at present it is very hard to make ends meet. I know countless Uber drivers who are driving seven days a week to make ends meet."

Another said they'd put in 40+ hour weeks to earn £350 "before my expenses like fuel, insurance, car wash etc.".

An Uber spokesperson said: "We’re proud of the economic opportunities we have created for people who can choose to drive when and where they want. Drivers using our app made average payments of more than £16 an hour after Uber’s service fee this September."

They added that 20 per cent of drivers were logged into the app for 10 hours or under a week and 25 per cent logged in for 40 or more.

"We keep a very close eye on payments because our app wouldn’t work if drivers did not see us as a competitive and attractive opportunity," the spokesperson said.

"We have a 24/7 support team to respond to any serious issues. Our GPS technology means that every Uber trip is tracked and recorded, with the details of the driver, rider and route taken."

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Field wants Transport for London (TfL) and the Department for Transport (DfT) to make Uber get rid of "sweated labour" from its working practices before its licence is renewed. It ends next year.

He also thinks it's important employment law is tweaked to keep with the times, so that firms in the gig economy are required to give workers basic protections.

A recent employment tribunal about workers' rights at Uber and the debate over whether drivers are self-employed or eligible for workers' rights, ruled in favour of the drivers who will be entitled to holiday and the national minimum wage. Uber is appealing the ruling though.

The government announced last month that it had appointed Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the Arts, to lead a review of the gig economy to assess how it is affecting workers' rights.

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