A class action lawsuit has been filed against Uber, on behalf of thousands of Australian taxi and hire car drivers, for allegedly operating illegally which provided the company with an unfair competitive advantage.
The lawsuit was filed on Friday morning at the Victorian Supreme Court by law firm Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, and will cover more than 6,000 drivers, operators, and licence owners across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia, making it one of the biggest class actions in Australian history.
The claimants allege Uber knew that its operations in Australia were illegal as its drivers did not have the proper licences or accreditations.
Uber also allegedly adopted a program to avoid the use of licences and accreditation, as well as "a policy to operate in any market where the regulator had tacitly approved doing so by failing to take direct enforcement action".
"Make no mistake, this will be a landmark case regarding the alleged illegal operations of Uber in Australia and the devastating impact that has had on the lives of hard-working and law-abiding citizens here," Maurice Blackburn head of class actions Andrew Watson said.
The class action's lead plaintiff is Nick Andrianakis, a taxi driver, operator, and licence owner from Brunswick, Victoria.
The class action will seek compensation for the loss of driver income for Uber's conduct between April 1, 2014, and July 31, 2017, which covers when Uber first entered the market to when the taxi industry was deregulated.
There will be no out-of-pocket costs or liability risks for the claimants, Maurice Blackburn senior associate Elizabeth O'Shea said, with the lawsuit to be funded by litigation funder Harbour.
Since Uber entered the Australian market, state governments around the country have made various attempts to address the activity of the world's largest ride-hailing company.
The Western Australian and Queensland governments regulated Uber in 2016, requiring Uber drivers to have special licences while also reducing the cost of fees paid by taxi drivers.
In NSW, the state government set up a AU$1 levy on all taxi and ride-sharing trips, which aimed to contribute AU$100 million to pay for a compensation scheme.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, Uber received the green light to operate in August 2017, after a decision passed by a Victorian County Court judge in favour of a Melbourne Uber driver in early 2016 effectively deemed the service as legal.
The lawsuit follows Uber's announcement to go public in April, with the IPO set to happen sometime this month. The IPO is expected to sell about $10 billion worth of stock, which would make it one of the largest US tech IPOs ever, coming in at an anticipated $100 billion to $120 billion.