Uber minimum wage ruling: what it means to a struggling driver

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 17 March 2021 19:45 GMT

Uber driver Zamir Dreni is pictured in his car. Photo supplied by Zamir Dreni

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'I'm driving around like a headless chicken, but I'm not compensated' - driver says Uber's package falls short

By Emma Batha

LONDON, March 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As an Uber driver in London, Zamir Dreni might have been expected to welcome the news that the ride-hailing giant has reclassified its 70,000-plus drivers in Britain as workers after losing a court battle which could reshape the gig economy.

Uber said this week it would guarantee drivers a minimum wage of 8.72 pounds ($12.13) an hour during passenger trips and offer holiday pay and a pension plan. The company said drivers would be at least 15% better off, if they opt into the pension plan.

Yet 40-year-old Dreni - who is a representative for an app drivers and couriers union - said Uber's announcement fell short and would not leave him better off during his shifts.

The British drivers who brought the legal challenge said Uber had not fully complied with the court ruling, and the decision not to pay drivers for time spent waiting for a passenger would short-change them "to the tune of 40-50%".

This is Dreni's story as told to UK correspondent Emma Batha:    

I've been an Uber driver for over five years. Right now we are still in lockdown which has really hit my earnings. If I take 30 or 40 pounds (($41.82- 55.76) home today I'll consider myself super lucky.

It's very, very tough to support my family on what I earn, and it's never been tougher than now. We're just surviving. I'm living on credit cards.

I live in West London with my wife. We have a three-year-old daughter and another on the way in April.

Before coronavirus I would work eight to 10 hours a day, but 12 to 15 hours is normal now. I hardly see my kid, I leave when she's asleep and come back when she's asleep. And I'm working seven days a week.

During my shift I may only have a passenger for three to four hours so Uber's announcement won't increase my earnings. It's just a PR stunt.

It's good news that they've admitted we're all workers. That's a step in the right direction, but they're not complying with the full ruling.

The judge clearly said that our shift starts as soon as we are available for work. It doesn't start when we are with a customer.

But Uber sort of forgot about that and said we are only going to compensate you while you're on a trip. What about the time I'm waiting for a trip? I'm here and ready to work. I'm driving around like a headless chicken, but I'm not compensated.

I'm still clocking up mileage, wearing out my tyres and using up petrol even when I don't have a passenger.

We should be compensated the minute we turn on our app for as long as we are willing to work.

If Uber complied with the full ruling, it would make a huge difference to me, but what they announced will make no difference at all.

When I do have a passenger the fare is usually more than the minimum wage anyway.

The announcement about the pension is welcome news, but let's see the fine print because the devil is in the detail.

I have a lot of friends who are Uber drivers. We are all in the same boat, everyone is struggling.

Before coronavirus I could earn up to 500 pounds in a good week. Now it's maybe a little over 200 pounds, but that's before deductions for things like insurance, tax, fuel and loan repayments on my car. 

I know so many drivers who have had their cars repossessed. That's because of coronavirus, but Uber was not there to help them. If they had complied with the law from day one, drivers wouldn't have lost their cars. 

This interview was shortened and edited for clarity. 

($1 = 0.7207 pounds)

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(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)