After TfL's licence decision, Uber must brace itself for a winter of discontent

Matt Wort
Uber is appealing the decision by TfL not to renew its operating licence (Source: Getty)

TfL’s decision not to renew Uber’s private hire licence may have caught some off guard, but delve deeper into the firm’s ongoing series of operational controversies, and the shock subsides – rapidly.

The tech giant’s outing from the capital was justified by TfL due to its perceived “lack of corporate responsibility” in relation to safety, including concerns over its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and method of obtaining enhanced criminal offences checks.

Looking back over Uber’s past challenges, and subsequent reactions to criticism, it becomes apparent that this time, the firm may find need to find a renewed line of defence. In fact, it is likely that Uber’s perceived laissez-faire attitude towards customer wellbeing could be symptomatic of how the business perceives itself.

Back in October 2016, a group of Uber employees fought, and won, an Employment Tribunal where they demanded to be recognised as workers, rather than self-employed drivers. During proceedings, Uber rejected claims that it should ensure drivers receive holiday pay, sick pay, and the minimum wage, stating that it was a 'technology platform' that facilitates people getting taxis, distancing itself from having overarching responsibility for service users and employees.

However, another area of contention for the firm is its use of software. TfL states that Uber failed to explain how it used 'greyball', a system it has deployed elsewhere to actively stop law enforcement from investigating the company and its drivers - denying them rides. This lack of transparency in the use of data is not akin to the operations of a specialist technology platform.

Today’s woes aside, the eagerly awaited Employment Tribunal appeal hearing is due to take place at the end of the month, and it is my expectation that October 2016’s decision will be upheld. If so, Uber must completely redevelop its employment model or face legal action and disruption to its services UK-wide.

There’s no doubt that Uber’s executives are readying themselves for a winter of discontent, but upcoming appeals aside, it’s time for the company to agree on what it stands for and take steps to fulfil its responsibilities.

In an increasingly price-driven marketplace, and one where individuals are willing to fly close to the wind in the pursuit of a bargain – Ryanair’s flight cancellation faux-pas once again punished cost-conscious consumers this week – it’s even more important that regulation is fit for purpose.

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