Uber is set to strike a landmark agreement with one of the UK’s largest trade unions, the first time the Silicon Valley company has recognised a union of its ride-hailing drivers anywhere in the world.
The GMB union will be able to represent tens of thousands of Uber drivers in the UK, giving them collective bargaining powers, Bloomberg News reported, citing anonymous sources.
The move follows Uber’s defeat this year in the UK Supreme Court, which ruled that its drivers are workers and therefore entitled to a minimum wage, among other benefits.
Gig-economy companies such as Uber have fought against unionisation for many years, arguing that traditional employment structures were incompatible with flexible working and fluctuating demand from customers.
That is now starting to change, particularly in Europe. Uber has already struck collective bargaining agreements for its food delivery couriers in Italy, while in Germany its drivers are employed through fleet-management companies.
Unions representing gig economy workers have emerged in recent years to push for greater protections, including the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain and the App Drivers and Couriers Union, but the GMB is the first to be recognised by Uber.
In the past, the GMB has been among Uber’s most hostile critics, accusing the company last year of “Dickensian actions and attitudes not fit for today’s wold of employment” and cheering Transport for London’s decision in 2019 to suspend its London operating license, which was reinstated by an appeals court judge in September.
Last year, after vigorous campaigning by Uber and its rivals, voters in California approved Proposition 22, exempting gig-economy companies from a new employment law and entrenching drivers’ status as independent contractors.
This week, researchers at Oxford university condemned Uber’s treatment of its drivers and food couriers. Uber was given a score of just 2 out of 10 — below food delivery rivals Just Eat and Deliveroo but ahead of ride-hailing services Ola and Bolt — based on the researchers’ assessment of fair working conditions including pay and appeals against management decisions.
James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam of the App Drivers & Couriers Union, who led the Supreme Court case against Uber, said the GMB deal was a “step in the right direction”. But they added that they remained “concerned” about certain aspects of the agreement.
“At this time ADCU is not prepared to enter into a recognition agreement with Uber,” they said, saying the company “continues to violate basic employment law”.
“We are disturbed by Uber’s divisive and anti-union behaviour in the United States, most recently in California and New York State, where Uber has used the appearance of blunt collective bargaining agreements to actually weaken the power of workers rather than the opposite,” said the ADCU. “Naturally, we have concerns about Uber’s motivations on this side of the Atlantic not only in the UK but throughout Europe also.”