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As drivers begin a 24-hour international #UberStrike, Yonas Makoni speaks to the ADCU’s Yaseen Aslam about why they’re taking action

Why are you striking?

Basically, we’ve got a massive, national strike on Tuesday, 28 September across the whole of the UK. We’re asking all our members and drivers that work for Uber to stop working for 24 hours on 28 September. On top, we’ve also got demos in 8 different cities across the UK, including London, Nottingham, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield and Leeds.

We have 3 simple demands that we’re fighting for. One is pay: we’re asking Uber to increase the mileage rate, which is currently quite low, to £2 per mile. We want the commission rate to come down to 15% – at the moment, it’s 25%. And at the same time, we’re asking Uber to scrap up-front pricing. That’s our third demand.

The second issue we have is that even though we fought Uber and won at the Supreme Court, Uber is still failing to abide by the ruling. So we’re asking Uber to respect the Supreme Court ruling – that means paying drivers from log-on to log-off time. And we’re seeing a lot of drivers getting dismissed from the platform unfairly. Currently, drivers have no source of income while they’re suspended and Uber is carrying out their investigation. So we’re saying that if Uber is suspending drivers, they should pay them compensation – especially when they’re false allegations.

So it’s all about pay, making sure that Uber abides by the employment laws and regulations that we have in this country and also making sure that drivers have a fair process when they’ve been dismissed from the platform.

When you refer to the Supreme Court ruling, you’re referring to a ruling earlier this year that declared Uber drivers to be workers rather than independent contractors and therefore ruled that they are entitled to basic workers’ rights, such as the minimum wage. Can you explain how it is that Uber is not currently living up to those responsibilities.

Ok, so this has been a long debate and something we’ve fought over for the last six or seven years. In this country, we have three employment statuses: ‘self-employed’, right at the bottom we have ’employee’ and then we have a limb (b) worker, they call it here in the UK. Now, obviously as an employee you have a lot more rights such as paternity and maternity leave, sick pay, while as a self-employed worker you have very few rights but you’re running your own business. Now, in the UK we have a middle status called a limb (b) worker, which means that you’re self-employed but you’re working for someone else’s business – in this case, Uber.

It’s all about the control that that company has over you. As an Uber driver, the minute I get into my car and log onto the app, I’m under Uber’s control and therefore as a worker I’m entitled to some minimum rights – such as the minimum wage, trade union recognition, holiday pay. So it’s just these basic rights that we’re fighting for. In our, Uber did everything they could to fight us, all the way up to the Supreme Court. But since we won, Uber has come to the table and they have started paying drivers some holiday pay, but Uber interprets it in their way. What Uber’s saying is that we’re only workers from the time that we have passengers in our car – but we actually have this void period where we’re sitting around waiting on our job, but we’re not getting paid for it. And that is our main concern: as Uber grows – and we’ve seen this happen before – as they flood their platform with more and more drivers, you’re gonna have a lot of drivers waiting around without getting paid.

So let’s say you’re working 10 hours from start to finish, you might only have a passenger in your car for four hours, so you have a void six hours where you’ve earned no income. On average, a driver needs to work 70 hours weekly and you’re working about 35 hours just to offset your expenses. So until Uber fully complies with the Supreme Court ruling, we’re going to have this issue with drivers still getting paid below what they should be as per the employment law.

And it’s not just Uber. It’s the whole industry that’s relying on this exploitative model. So, we have cases going on against Bolt, for example. We recently won a case in Northampton against a big regional operator there called Bounds taxi. So we’re seeing the same exploitation and abuse everywhere across the industry.

My point is that we fought this all the way to the Supreme Court and won, but Uber can still get away with not complying. So, this is where it comes down to us mobilising. Drivers have had enough, they’re fed up and they want to come forward and protest. But at the same time, we need the public and our supporters to support us in boycotting Uber. So for these 24 hours, it’s not just the drivers boycotting, we also need passengers to not use Uber. And that’s what’s going to make this a success and that’s how we can build that workers’ power that can make Uber finally come in line and make sure that workers get their minimum rights.


How much support are you currently getting from the public and from, for example, politicians?

Well, I come from the drivers’ community and 80% of our members are Uber drivers. We have thousands of members in many different cities across the country. So we’re doing a good job in terms of mobilising these guys and they all want to log off and attend the protests. But the main factor now is in the support that we can get from the public. That means going on to Twitter, Facebook and sharing the strike. If we can get #UberStrike trending, that would help us.

Generally speaking, in the UK, we haven’t had a lot of support from the politicians. That’s partly our fault, because as a union we’ve been more focused on supporting our members and haven’t been reaching out to politicians etc. But that’s no excuse, because I think that whether you’re an MP in Leicester, Glasgow, London or wherever, these are your people. And they need to be able to work with us and support their people when they’re protesting and striking.

At the moment, we have had lots of support from, for example, Counterfire, People before Profit and so on, but it’s still not enough and we need to really make it a big, massive campaign. And that is difficult for us, as we’re workers and our influence is primarily among workers. But there are many people with wider influence that might be reading this and we need their support. We’re all in this together – so even if you don’t work for Uber, your way of helping could be boycotting Uber on the 28th, sharing the strike on social media and attending a picket line in one of the eight cities.

We have drivers in Bangladesh coming out in protest on the same day, we have drivers in Canada protesting, we have drivers in France protesting. We’ve had drivers in Australia and many other countries come forward and reach out in solidarity. So, in terms of workers, we’re actually out there already doing it, but what we’re lacking is the support of the public. So we’d be grateful if people would do whatever they can do to support us and get our message out. At the end of the day, there is only so much we can do as workers and we do need that support from the politicians and the general public.

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