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May 27, 2021updated 28 May 2021 10:13am

Uber alles? Not any more, as UK drivers now get to be part of the union

By Robert Scammell

Uber will formally recognise a trade union for the first time ever in the ride-hail giant’s latest concession on workers’ rights.

The GMB union will be able to represent Uber’s 70,000 drivers in discussions about pay, pension, benefits, health, safety and wellbeing.

Uber and GMB will meet quarterly to “discuss driver issues and concerns”.

Drivers are not automatically enrolled and will have to sign up to the union to gain representation. The deal does not apply to Uber Eats, the company’s food delivery arm.

The move follows the UK Supreme Court’s ruling in February that Uber must classify its drivers as workers rather than self-employed. The decision, resisted by Uber through the British legal system since 2016, means drivers are entitled to the UK National Living Wage, paid holiday and other benefits.

Drivers argued that new terms announced by Uber following the ruling fell short of the legal requirements.

“Whilst Uber and GMB may not seem like obvious allies, we’ve always agreed that drivers must come first, and today we have struck this important deal to improve workers’ protections,” said Jamie Heywood, regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe at Uber.

Mick Rix, national officer at GMB, said that “history has been made”.

He added: “This agreement shows gig economy companies don’t have to be a wild west on the untamed frontier of employment rights.

“When tech private hire companies and unions work together like this, everyone benefits – bringing dignified, secure employment back to the world of work.”

He also called on other operators, such as Bolt in the UK and Lyft in the US, to follow suit.

Verdict has contacted Bolt to ask if it intends to recognise a union for its own drivers.

Last week a report found Uber Eats delivery drivers in Australia were earning as little as $5 for deliveries of nearly 4km.

Earlier this month Uber revealed it had set aside $600m to cover the cost of historic driver employment claims in the UK in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The company, which was founded in 2009, is yet to turn an annual profit, despite going public in 2019.

Backlash against gig economy companies has been growing and earlier this year saw high profile investors shun Deliveroo’s initial public offering.

Other companies will soon classify gig workers as employees amid government clampdowns, according to a prediction by GlobalData analysts.