Uber driver accounts disabled without recourse, Senate investigation finds
Uber has been accused of deactivating drivers’ accounts after raising concerns about their passengers’ compliance with COVID-19, just over three months after a Senate report suggested that working conditions and the remuneration of site workers were unacceptable.
Two Uber drivers told the Senate Committee on Job Security on Thursday afternoon that their accounts had been wrongfully disabled without an opportunity to appeal.
A driver said his account was disabled for five days after a passenger alleged the driver was violent while traveling. Another driver, who testified to the committee anonymously, said the ride-sharing platform deactivated his account after a driver complained about having to wear a mask.
The anonymous driver said the problem was compounded by the fact that he was unable to contact Uber for help after his account was suspended. He said drivers can usually call the platform’s help desk in Manila, Philippines with questions, but only with an active account.
“If you are disabled, you have no recourse. You cannot go back to them. That’s the major issue I have with them and job security,” the unnamed Uber driver told the Committee.
“There are other things like that – you don’t get super obviously as a contractor you get hurt on the job but you can’t get any compensation or anything for that,” did he declare.
After the driver’s account was reactivated, the driver said, he was not offered any form of compensation for the income he had lost.
“As a contractor, you should be able to refuse to work. But what the Uber app does is if you refuse a job, it punishes you for it,” he said.
“It’s almost like they’re putting you in the bad guy’s corner if you don’t take the job, even though that might not be economically viable for gas prices right now.”
An Uber spokesperson told Business Insider Australia that the pandemic has put a strain on the platform’s support staff, which is why some drivers may have struggled to access the platform. assistance.
“Following Uber’s 2021 Earner Voice survey, it was clear that phone support was lacking, especially for rideshare partner drivers. Based on this feedback, we have reinstated phone support for all partner drivers. by the end of April 2021,” they said.
“Partner drivers who have temporarily lost access to the app while a safety report is being reviewed can get in touch with customer support through this channel.”
The spokesperson also said that while the complaints process is driven by humans and not an algorithm, it is undertaking work to make it easier for drivers to understand.
“Losing access to a driver-partner or delivery account doesn’t happen often, but when it does, we know it can be very stressful and frustrating.said the Uber spokesperson.
“That’s why we’re working to make the process easier to understand and improve support so partner drivers and deliverers know why they’ve lost access and what they can do about it.”“
The testimony heard on Thursday comes just over three months after the Committee submitted its interim report, which found that platforms are not doing enough to provide workers with adequate working conditions or compensation.
“The committee is satisfied that the current arrangements, conditions and rates of pay for site workers are not acceptable and do not provide them with sufficient income and other protections to support themselves and their families.” , the committee wrote.
In its recommendations, the Committee suggested that the federal government expand its definitions of employers and employees in the Fair Work Act to reflect new business models.
Dominic Taylor, who runs Uber in Australia, and Matthew Denman, who runs Uber Eats, each pushed back, saying drivers appreciate flexibility.
“What we see is a range of activity. A lot of drivers don’t take a lot of the trips we send them, and that’s fine,” Taylor told the Committee Thursday.
“We have people studying, so they can read their lecture notes or listen to their lecture notes during downtime. They can call family overseas, and if they’re still online and another trip is coming, they’re under no obligation to accept that trip.
He added that additionally, drivers have the ability to work for other platforms while active on the Uber app, which they couldn’t do under a traditional contractual arrangement.
Denman followed his lead and told the Committee that the flexibility offered to drivers – the ability to work on more than one “platform” and not be locked into fixed shifts – is precisely why it would be difficult to pay them a minimum wage.
Throughout the hearing, he maintained that “most drivers” earned on average weekly more than minimum wage. When asked by the committee how earnings might vary during different times of the day, he replied that “the reality is that every driver’s earnings are very different.”
“I think sometimes the divergence here is that we don’t believe it’s possible to introduce a minimum wage on all time spent online,” Denman said.
“And the reason for that is if you did that, we would have a situation where drivers could only be on one platform, they would have to have set shifts, and we would need to control where and how they earned on the platform.”
Denman went on to cite an internal survey conducted by the company where, allegedly, 80% of rig drivers would quit the rig if flexibility wasn’t part of the equation.
According to an Uber spokesperson, the investigation Taylor referred to before the committee was one conducted by research firm AlphaBeta in 2019.
The report found flexibility was a key motivator for 80% of platform drivers in Australia, and without it two in three said they “wouldn’t work at all”.
“And that would mean that people would lose revenue opportunities and that would mean the services we provide, but we fully support any proposal or any process to look at how we can introduce minimum safeguards around revenue that protect that flexibility.” , did he declare. .
The pair added that over the past six weeks, Australian Uber drivers earned an average of $32.25 per hour, while Uber Eats drivers earned an average hourly rate of $29.
The Committee is set to table its final report at the end of November, after reviewing more than 200 submissions.
In its brief, law firm Maurice Blackburn wrote that the “cracking” of Australian workplaces by an increasingly outsourced workforce is leading to a widening gap between those who want the job is done and those who provide it.
“Accountability for the safety, well-being and rights of workers is blurred by outsourcing agreements,” the company wrote.
“The ability of workers to engage in negotiations with those who want the job done is further reduced by these arrangements. We argue that the impacts of not providing certainty of access to workers’ compensation coverage can be devastating for gig economy workers and their families.
Meanwhile, the Victorian government said in its statement that an increasingly bloated casual workforce, made worse by the pandemic, is cause enough for federal government intervention.
“All Australians have seen the devastating impact that precarious work can have in times of crisis, such as at the height of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” they wrote.
“For workers who are casual or in precarious forms of work, or workers who are not entitled to sick leave, the pandemic has created a dilemma – potentially being forced to choose between self-isolation and a reduced financial capacity, or their own health and that of the wider community.”
Denman told the Committee that Uber is committed to improving the quality and protection of self-employment as long as it doesn’t come at the cost of flexibility, which he believes is the value of the platform’s contractors.
“Our proposal that we have made in our submissions and made to this committee in our two appearances is that there is an opportunity to create protections for rig work in Australia,” Denman said.
“Our request, or our recommendation, is that we do this and we review this on the basis that we respect and protect flexible working and that we recognize that work is unique and distinct from traditional employment,” he said. -he declares.
“As long as we do, we are ready and willing and are very committed to engaging with all stakeholders and with the government on how we can do this.”