Drivers’ Advocacy Group Warns ‘More Disruptions’ After Uber Strike

Uber is accused of shortchanging drivers via its 'upfront pricing' policy, and other recent changes
August 8, 2018 Updated: September 4, 2018

Investigations into whether Uber is compliant with Australian workplace laws continue, as a ride sharing advocacy group threatens further disruptions following a nationwide strike against Uber’s recent pricing changes.

On Aug. 6, thousands of Uber drivers across Australia logged off the Uber app during peak-hour commuting time, from 7 a.m. to 9.30 a.m., in a strike initiated by advocacy group RideShare Drivers United (RSDU).

RSDU called Uber to stop its upfront-pricing policy, which drivers allege has significantly caused their earnings to drop. It also called on the company to let drivers opt-out of the multiple pick-up service, UberPool, without fear of penalties. The group also asked for better compensation for UberPool drivers.

Lastly, RSDU demanded that Uber increase rates for UberX drivers by at least 15 percent.

RSDU plans to hold “a series of further disruptions” if Uber does not comply with these demands within 10 days.

Following the strike, RSDU said they received correspondence from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) on Aug. 7, saying that “investigation into Uber is continuing and further background work has been recently completed.”

“The FWO also noted recent changes to the ‘Uber’ model, as highlighted in our strike. These include fee structure changes like “upfront pricing” and the introduction of new services such as ‘UberPool’,” RSDU founder, Max B., said.

Max would not disclose his surname for fear of being blocked from the Uber app.

A spokesperson for the FWO said that their investigation into “whether the engagement of Uber drivers is compliant with Commonwealth workplace laws” is ongoing.

Simon Smith, the Australian manager for the ride-sharing platform Ola said the strike was “a sign Australian ride-share drivers are fed up and demand better working conditions”, AAP reported.

Drivers ‘Shortchanged’ by Upfront Pricing

Under Uber’s upfront pricing implemented in selected Australian cities since March 2018, passengers are quoted a set price, for example $30, instead of a range, like $25-35, before they request their trip.

Members of RSDU want Uber to return to the prior arrangement—determining the fare according to a meter which takes into account the time and distance travelled—to allow for unexpected delays.

After interviewing a sample of 40 Uber drivers, the ABC found that 35 reported a “significant” pay cut since upfront pricing, and were, on almost every trip, being paid less compared to what they would have earned if the trip was charged according to a meter.

Of the remaining five drivers, one said he was making more money, and four said their earnings did not appear affected.

According to Uber’s website, ‘upfront pricing’ is calculated by “using the expected time and distance of the trip and local traffic, as well as how many riders and nearby drivers are using Uber at that moment.”

“If the trip changes significantly such as with heavy traffic or multiple extra stops, the fare will be automatically adjusted to use the actual time and distance travelled,” Uber said in an email to drivers, the ABC reported.

But several drivers told the ABC that Uber failed to follow its own policy, where drivers were told by Uber that their 20 or 30 minute delays were not “significant” enough.

“It’s a nightmare,” Max told The Epoch Times. The upfront-pricing policy “doesn’t take into account traffic and delays in traffic. Road closures happen all day long, everywhere.”

The policy “has cut drivers’ pay for the majority of trips, in times of heavy traffic or unexpected road closures or accidents. And when contacted for the difference, Uber refuses to pay, causing the driver to absorb the loss,” he added.

Some Uber drivers said they felt they didn’t have a choice and had to sign amended contracts to honour the upfront price, lest they risk being blocked from the Uber app, the ABC reported.

Drivers are also not being told what the upfront fare is until the trip is finished.

“If it’s so upfront, how come the driver knows the price at the end of the trip only?” Max said. “I’m a self-employed, independent contractor, they call us … They say you are a contractor but they don’t even treat you as a contractor.”

So far Uber has not responded The Epoch Times’ requests for comment.

Sham Contracting Probe Ongoing

In 2017, the FWO began an investigation into Uber over allegations of “sham contracting.” The RSDU had presented evidence of Uber’s abuse of Fair Work laws to the FWO in June 2017.

RSDU said that Uber had been violating Australian workplace laws by classifying drivers as independent contractors, but not treating them as such.

“To be classified as real subcontractors, drivers must have more control and ability to grow their business, directly negotiate service prices with customers, ask for the destination before having to drive to the pick up location, be permitted to hail street rides, issue invoices and most importantly be able to scrutinise the Uber booking system and its various performance and earning metrics,” RSDU said on its website in June 2017.

The Financial Review says the investigation poses the possibility that Uber could be forced to pay drivers minimum wages and superannuation.

An Uber spokesperson told the Financial Review in June 2017 that “more than 60,000 Australian driver-partners choose to drive using the Uber app because they like to set their own schedule and be their own boss … We will be happy to assist the FWO with any questions they may have.”

Follow Mimi on Twitter: @MimiNguyenLy