Uber accused of not providing recourse for unfair driver account deactivations

Uber told an Australian Senate committee that the "flexibility" it provides drivers would be lost if it introduced a minimum wage.

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According to various Uber drivers who appeared before an Australian Senate committee on Thursday, there is no recourse or compensation provided to drivers when their accounts are wrongly deactivated.

The Uber drivers appeared before the Senate Committee on Job Security, which is currently leading an inquiry into whether Australia's gig economy workers are being paid fairly and if there are sufficient health and safety protections in place for them.

On Thursday afternoon, two Uber drivers recounted their experiences of having their accounts on the platform wrongly deactivated. One driver's account was allegedly deactivated for five days when a passenger falsely claimed that the driver was being violent, while another said their account was deactivated for a day because one of their passengers filed a complaint about feeling uncomfortable from wearing a mask during the ride.

The latter driver, who chose to remain anonymous, told the Senate committee that he was also unable to contact Uber after his account was deactivated.

He explained that when a driver is activated, they can access a call centre that is based in Manila, Philippines for help. But if an Uber driver is falsely deactivated, he said there are no means to rectify the issue.

"If you are deactivated you have no recourse. You cannot get back to them. That's the major issue and problem that I have with them and job security. There are other things like this -- you're not getting any super, obviously, as a subcontractor, you get injured on the job, but you can't get any compensation or anything for it," the unnamed Uber driver said.

When asked by senators whether he received any compensation for the deactivation, he confirmed that no compensation was provided.

"As a subcontractor you should be able to refuse work. But what the Uber app does is if you refuse any work, it punishes you for it. It's almost like they put you in the naughty corner if you don't take the job, even though it might not be economically viable for the price of petrol at the moment," the driver added.

The Australian heads of Uber and Uber Eats, Dominic Taylor and Matthew Denman, who also appeared before the Senate committee disagreed with this idea.

"What we see is that many drivers don't accept many trips that we send them and that's fine … In downtime, they can be making calls to family overseas and if they're still on that call and another trip came in they're in no way required to accept that trip," Denman said.

Denman added that Uber drivers have the option to provide ridesharing services through other platforms while being online on Uber's app.

In making this claim, Taylor added that this "flexibility" was why it would be hard to introduce a minimum wage for Uber's drivers.

"I think sometimes the discrepancy here is we don't believe it is possible to introduce a minimum wage across all [time drivers spend on the Uber app]. And the reason being is if you did that, we would have to have a situation where drivers could only be on one platform, they would have to have set shifts, and we would need to control where and how they were earning on the platform," Taylor said.

Taylor told the committee that a survey conducted by Uber with its drivers indicated 80% of them would not work with the company if this flexibility was lost.

"And so that would mean people lose earnings opportunities and would mean that the services that we provide, but we are fully supportive of any proposals or any process to look at how we can introduce minimum guardrails around earnings that protect that flexibility," Taylor said.

Both Denman and Taylor also provided information regarding how much Uber drivers have been paid over the past six weeks, saying that drivers on Uber earned AU$32.25 per hour and Uber Eats drivers earned AU$29 per hour over that period.

This time consisted of all the time a driver was on the app, which included times where people are engaged and not engaged, such as when they may be taking trips on competitor apps, they said.

At the end of June, the committee released an interim report into this inquiry, saying at the time it felt strongly that the current arrangements, conditions, and pay rates for gig workers were not acceptable.

The report detailed in addition to being exposed to abuse, assaults, discrimination, and sexual harassment, gig workers are being put at risk of serious injury or death due to "unrealistic time and performance pressures, combined with high-risk work environments, and lack of training and appropriate protective equipment".

The Senate committee is due to table its final report for the inquiry at the end of this month.

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