Workers' rights & labour organisation in the gig economy

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Article
6 December 2018

USA: First minimum pay rate passed for ride-hailing app drivers

Author: Alexia Fernández Campbell, Vox

"New York City passes nation’s first minimum pay rate for Uber and Lyft drivers", 5 December 2018

New York City is giving a raise to Uber and Lyft drivers...city officials passed the nation’s first minimum pay rate for drivers who work for ride-hailing apps, ending a contentious two-year battle to make sure drivers can earn a decent living.

Starting in January, ride-hailing companies will start paying drivers around $17.22 per hour (after expenses) — about $5 more per hour than the current average of $11.90 per hour...

Because Uber and Lyft drivers are considered independent contractors and not employees, they are not subject to the city’s minimum hourly wage, which will reach $15 per hour at the end of the month. The new rules essentially get around that loophole and ensure that drivers are earning at least the minimum wage, with a few dollars extra to cover payroll taxes and some paid time off...

Uber and Lyft are both pushing back against the pay rules, saying it will make rides more expensive for customers and will limit business competition...

Via, another ride-sharing service, seemed to embrace the changes. “As the industry leader in driver earnings in New York City, we are looking forward to working with the TLC on implementing this rule,” the company said...

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Article
28 August 2017

USA: Judge rejects challenge by 11 drivers to Seattle law allowing drivers of ride-hailing companies to unionise over pay & working conditions

Author: Associated Press

"Judge refuses to block Seattle Uber, Lyft driver union law", 25 Aug 2017

For the second time this month, a federal judge has rejected a challenge to Seattle’s first-in-the-nation law allowing drivers of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft to unionize over pay and working conditions.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik late Thursday rejected a challenge brought by 11 drivers, saying that their claims against the law were premature or too speculative.

He earlier rejected a challenge brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on behalf of the companies. The organization is appealing that decision. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which represents the drivers, said Friday that it too would appeal.

...[T]he judge declined to keep Seattle’s law on hold pending the appeals, clearing the way for the Teamsters to try to begin unionizing the drivers unless the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says otherwise...

The companies say a collective bargaining agreement could undermine the flexibility of how often and for how long drivers work...But unionization supporters say it could help fix practices that have included unjust terminations and deceptive payment structures...

Article
11 August 2017

Judge dismisses lawsuit seeking to block law allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to form unions

Author: Jeremy B. White, Independent (UK)

In a ruling that helps define the rights of labourers in the booming gig economy, a federal judge has dismissed a legal challenge to a Seattle ordinance allowing drivers-for-hire to form unions. The lawsuit parallels a national fight over the rights of workers in an industry that relies heavily on independent contractors, rather than full-time employees, to sustain businesses like Lyft and Uber. After a 2015 Seattle ordinance allowing those drivers to form such organisations took effect and a Teamsters union obtained permission to organise workers, the US Chamber of Commerce sued on the grounds that allowing independent contractors to organise violated federal antitrust and labour laws. The organisation, of which Uber and Lyft are members, argued that allowing the ordinance to proceed would stifle competition...A second pending lawsuit will continue to prevent the Seattle ordinance from taking effect. In a statement, the US Chamber of Commerce said that “the City’s unlawful ordinance would stifle innovation and undermine economic growth. We continue to believe it should not be allowed to take effect,” and Uber said in a statement that it planned to appeal against Mr Lasnik’s ruling...

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Article
8 May 2017

UK: Tax authority investigates employment status of Hermes' delivery drivers

Author: Rob Davies, The Guardian (UK)

"HMRC steps up inquiry into employment status of Hermes couriers", 3 May 2017

HM Revenue & Customs has stepped up its investigation into the delivery company Hermes classifiying its couriers as self-employed, while the business has also been hit with an employment rights lawsuit from the GMB trade union. Drivers for Hermes were sent letters from HMRC over the weekend asking them to provide evidence as the tax authority looks into their employment status. In the letter, seen by the Guardian, HMRC requests that the drivers disclose information such as their written contract and payslips, and agree to a one-hour interview. “This will help us decide what your employment status is/was,” it says. HMRC’s investigation follows one by the Guardian that found some self-employed couriers were being paid less than the national living wage", in an arrangement the company said had been approved by HMRC. Separately, GMB has filed a lawsuit challenging Hermes over employment conditionsfor its couriers, vowing to battle “bogus self-employment and gig economy exploitation”...

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Article
1 May 2017

May Day report by MPs damns growing UK gig economy

Author: Katie Allen, The Guardian (UK)

Companies in Britain's growing gig economy are forcing workers into bogus self-employment and free-riding on the welfare state, an influential committee of MPs has said. In a damning assessment of modern employment practices, the parliamentary work and pensions committee calls on the next government to bring laws up to date so that workers are better protected from exploitation. Given concerns about the rising number of workers classed as self-employed contractors with no access to sick benefit or holiday pay, it wants the default status for people in the gig economy to be "worker" rather than "self-employed"....The committee...highlighted that forcing people into self-employment as couriers, taxi drivers and other roles, rather than taking them on as employees, was depriving the state of badly needed tax revenues and creating an extra burden on the welfare system...The report comes ahead of the government's Taylor review of modern working practices, which is likely to recommend that self-employed gig economy workers should be granted greater protections and benefits....Monday's report also notes that self-employed people and employees receive almost equal access to the services funded by national insurance contributions "yet the self-employed contribute far less"...

[refers to Uber, Deliveroo, Amazon & Hermes]

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Article
27 April 2017

Uber to offer drivers sick pay after row over workers' rights

Author: Cara McGoogan & Szu Ping Chan, The Telegraph (UK)

Uber has agreed to grant its drivers sick pay and injury cover as it faces intense scrutiny over employment rights under the gig economy...In exchange for £2 a week, drivers who join the scheme will be covered if they are unable to work because of unforeseen circumstances such as illness, injury or jury duty. It comes as Uber is appealing an employment tribunal's decision that its drivers are workers, rather than self-employed, and therefore entitled to rights such as sick pay. It is one of the first companies that operates under the gig economy to offer such assurances...Uber has partnered with the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed to offer the benefits to drivers. As well as sickness and injury cover of up to £2,000 it will also offer jury service cover of the same amount and occupational accident cover of £300 per week for up to a year. Uber said it is subsidising the cost of joining the Association and accessing the insurances so that drivers pay £2 pay a week for benefits worth £8...

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Article
18 April 2017

How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers’ Buttons

Author: Noah Scheiber, The New York Times

Even as Uber talks up its determination to treat drivers more humanely, it is engaged in an extraordinary behind-the-scenes experiment in behavioral science to manipulate them in the service of its corporate growth…Uber’s innovations reflect the changing ways companies are managing workers amid the rise of the freelance-based “gig economy.” Uber [uses] psychological inducements and other techniques unearthed by social science to influence when, where and how long drivers work…Uber has experimented with video game techniques, graphics and noncash rewards of little value that can prod drivers into working longer and harder — and sometimes at hours and locations that are less lucrative for them…

As long as Uber continues to set growth and passenger volume as critical goals, it will have an incentive to make wringing more hours out of drivers a higher priority …It is, as a result, not too hard to imagine a future in which massive digital platforms like Uber have an appetite for tens of millions of workers…In such an economy, experts say, using big data and algorithms to manage workers will not simply be a niche phenomenon. It may become one of the most common ways of managing the American labor force.

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Article
18 April 2017

It’s time to regulate the gig economy

Author: Janine Berg and Valerio De Stefano, Open Democracy

Although it would seem straightforward that the laws protecting workers should also apply to workers in what is described as the ‘gig economy’ or ‘platform-based work’, there is much debate – and confusion – on this issue…Depicting work in the platform economy as a mere ‘sharing of favours’ conveys an image of the gig economy as a sort of parallel dimension, where chores are amateurishly carried out as a form of leisure, with no relation to ‘work’. The reality, however, is different. For most workers, platform-based work is an essential source of income…

Self-regulation by the platforms, as is currently the case, cannot ensure better working conditions…Moreover, unless authorities step in…platforms will continue to have an advantage over traditional industries, risking a deterioration of working conditions that extends beyond platform-based work.

But how to regulate?...The technology that has allowed parcelling and distributing work to ‘the crowd’ can also be used to regulate the work and provide protection to workers…This same technology can thus also be used to ensure that workers earn at least the minimum wage or ideally to regulate the wage agreed collectively by the workers and the platform...

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Article
13 April 2017

The Gig Economy’s False Promise

Author: The New York Times

"The Gig Economy’s False Promise", 10 Apr 2017

The promises Silicon Valley makes about the gig economy can sound appealing. Its digital technology lets workers become entrepreneurs...In reality, there is no utopia at companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart and Handy, whose workers are often manipulated into working long hours for low wages…Gig economy workers tend to be poorer and are more likely to be minorities than the population at large, a survey by the Pew Research Center found last year… Since workers for most gig economy companies are considered independent contractors, not employees, they do not qualify for basic protections like overtime pay and minimum wage…Increasingly workers, and government agencies are pushing back... Lyft recently agreed to pay $27 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by drivers in California...Legislation and lawsuits might ensure that traditional labor laws are applied to the gig economy. But a few smaller companies… are taking steps on their own, by treating workers as employees. They say that this lowers turnover and improves the quality of their services. Over time even bigger companies like Uber…might find that it pays to treat workers better…

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Article
12 April 2017

Commentary: A crisis of control: what should the on-demand workforce be demanding?

Author: Alice Martin, Open Democracy (UK)

When it comes to work, the UK is facing a crisis of control. We already feel among the highest sense of job insecurity of any country in Europe and work among the longest hours. Low unemployment figures mask a growing number of people without a regular wage or employment rights – the percentage of people in ‘good jobs’ that are secure and well paid is in fact dropping year on year. This loss of control over things like working hours and pay has big implications: for many young people, the idea of putting away for a secure future, whether with a pension or savings, is just not an option. What happens if a whole generation is living hand to mouth?...

If the economy stagnates when the workforce loses its grip over work quality and pay, should the government step in? Recent horror stories from people in agency, zero-hour and falsely self-employed work have sparked an outbreak of parliamentary investigations into whether our employment laws and tax policies are fit for purpose...

So what is an alternative? Rather than fearing those who might take jobs (whether robots, workers from abroad, or indeed anyone making up the increasingly elastic labour force) the aim could be to join forces with them. Collective bargaining in the on-demand economy could seek to address the needs of not just the current workforce of a company, but the potential workforce – aiming to raise the expectations of people going into work and moving in between jobs...

Everyone has a role to play in this. Businesses and unions, politicians and campaign groups –all have an interest in building an economy that gives workers security and autonomy. The speed of change in the workplace feels disorientating – but it is part of longer term trends that – scary as they are – present opportunities for us to shape what emerges...

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