Uber's facing fresh scrutiny over workers rights and pay for drivers from the UK government

Lynsey Barber
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Uber Drivers Present Petition To Transport For London
The department for transport will also look at empowering local authorities when it comes to licensing (Source: Getty)

Uber is set for fresh scrutiny by the government as the transport minister promised to set up a new probe looking at workers rights at the the ride-hailing startup.

John Hayes has said the department for transport will set up a new working group to look into the issues beyond what is likely to be covered in an upcoming report into the gig economy.

The exact terms of the new independently chaired group, and how its remit would differ from an existing group looking at employment status, have yet to be decided.

Read more: Uber's bill to TfL for operating in London could be about to rocket

"I will consider in due course the terms and conditions of that working party, its membership and how it might have an effect on future policy," said Hayes, responding to MP Frank Field in a parliamentary debate late on Wednesday. Field, who chaired the work and pensions committee, has been outspoken on the matter, accusing the tech company of treating drivers like Victorian sweated labour.

Hayes said the benefits of Uber "must be balanced against the impact on those who work in these new ways".

"I am aware of concerns about the changing character of the landscape for taxis and private hire vehicles," he said.

"Greater flexibility in working arrangements can increase employment opportunities for those who have other commitments or aspirations, but we must equally be aware of the negatives. Nor must we regard the traditional private hire vehicle driver and operator relationship through rose-tinted spectacles and perceive it as some sort of ideal where operators work solely in the interests of drivers."

Hayes said it was "not good enough simply to wait for the Taylor report", an independent review of the gig economy by Matthew Taylor which is due to be published shortly.

Read more: Now London minicab drivers are ramping up pressure on TfL over Uber licence

The minister also promised to clarify local authorities' powers over licensing Uber, citing "problems with different local authorities interpreting those powers in different ways".

"This is a big, big breakthrough," said Field, welcoming the news.

"The government has acted on the evidence I submitted on the poverty pay and shoddy treatment meted out to some workers at the bottom of the ‘gig economy’, both by commissioning the Taylor Review and now by inquiring specifically around the private hire industry. Watch this space."

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