TFL Could Have Finished Off Workers’ Unfinished Business

London TaxiWorkers have unfinished business with Uber and other gig economy businesses. Getting workers recognised as people, rather than commodities, is a battle they are winning thanks to pressure being brought to bear by politicians, trade unions and campaigners. This ongoing struggle may well have been delivered a fatal body blow by the actions of Transport for London in refusing Uber and operator licence to trade as a private hire company. Their reasons are quite inexplicable in that they cite the actions of drivers as well as Uber itself. The licensing of drivers is completely separate to the licensing of operators and conflating the two is curious. Some are saying this is complicity with the long run and high-profile campaign by London’s black cab drivers. Whether complicity or naivety on behalf of TFL is another debate but either way the impact can be far reaching and very negative to works not just of Uber but in the wider London economy and maybe beyond if TFLs actions set a precedent for other cities.

Uber has been here before. They were challenged in the court over the use of its app, over commercial insurance and on the use of call centres. TFL fought them and lost. On one occasion TFL won against Uber, on the English-speaking requirements for private hire drivers, and even this has been given court permission for an appeal. The lesson here is that TFL’s record on challenging Uber is derisory which makes their latest move to refuse an operators’ licence not only high risk for TFL but just as high risk for workers.

As one of the world’s largest cities where it operates, Uber will stop at nothing to keep hold of this market and have already begun the appeal process and you don’t need a crystal ball to know that this appeals process will be exhausted until they have nowhere else to go or until they win. Based on previous experience they will take on TFL and they will win. In doing so the way they currently operate, for better or worse, will have a legal endorsement in the form of a judgement in their favour. It could be argued that with last year’s landmark ruling that Uber ‘partners’ are employees and not self-employed shows that workers have had far more success when fighting Uber in the courts. With the ruling the workers had a firm foundation to demand rights such as minimum wage, holiday and sick pay, pensions, etc. All this could now well be put at risk with TFLs actions. Workers for Uber are now under immediate risk of a severely reduced income meaning less for them and their families and more reliance in state benefits. Many Uber workers will also have their cars on finance which places yet more angst and worry on them.

Workers outside Uber are also placed at risk. London has an excellent public transport network but not everywhere within TFL boundaries are well served. Ordering a private hire taxi may well be the only means of getting to and from work for many workers in the Greater London area. Uber maybe the only affordable means of transport and is now under threat. Workers may opt to walk or use less secure means of transport.

Toryworkers would prefer TFL to have continued to talk with Uber to achieve the safeguards they need for both workers and passengers. By going for the all or nothing option Uber will have little option but to fight for the status quo in order to exist at all in London and this is not good for workers.