Uber must be a lesson to big corporations, nobody can be above the rulesTfL’s ruling that Uber is not a “fit and proper” may not be a popular one, the response has hit a nerve in regards to the mild inconvenience to its customers, but no company deserves a free pass just because it’s popular.
TfL has said it believes Uber’s conduct demonstrates a lack of corporate responsibility around a number of issues that have potential public safety and security implications. These include Uber’s approach to reporting serious criminal offences, and the way it obtains medical certificates and security checks (Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service) for their drivers. Uber’s current licence does not expire until the end of September so the service will continue, for now. The company will also be able to continue to operate until the appeals process has been exhausted.
A quick click on to the app, and a cheap ride in an instant, you can be picked up where you are, by a driver whose face, name and rating you can see beforehand – the appeal isn’t hard to see.
Uber’s model might be perfect for customers who have the convenience of being able to use an app to order a cab, and sometimes even be cheaper than taking public transport as a group. But we must look at the bigger picture.
Uber flat out ignored last year’s landmark ruling that its UK minicab drivers should be treated as employed workers with rights to the minimum wage and sick pay.
Yes, drivers can work the hours they want, not possible with local minicab firms. But drivers have to work extremely long hours to make a living. Drivers are self-employed, meaning they don’t get holiday or sick pay. Every hour that they are off the road, they are not making money. Sometimes they can be earning less than minimum wage after expenses are deducted. They are victims of the wider gig economy.
Uber’s shady conduct is not limited to the way it treats its drivers either. Uber’s strategy was always to dominate the London market by undercutting competitors. Backers including Goldman Sachs, BlackRock and other multibillion-dollar companies were happy for it to lose money in the short term, knowing that once it had crushed the competition it would be able to jack up its prices. Uber slashed prices to attract customers, and began recruiting on a massive scale to keep up with demand. Not only have we ended up with more drivers working longer hours, for worse pay, but some of those drivers should arguably never have been behind the wheel.
Just a month ago, the Metropolitan police accused Uber of failing to report sexual assaults by its drivers. The idea that Uber is the safest way to get home may be more one of perception than reality. As mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: “It would be simply wrong for TfL to continue to license Uber if there was any way this could pose a threat to Londoners’ safety or security”.
That is has taken so long for TfL to act, after years of laissez-faire regulation, is only slightly offset by their decision to now act – more regulators from different industries likely need to do the same, as such malpractices are not limited to just the minicab industry. 460,000 could be falsely classified as self-employed in the UK.
Uber has also faced the wrath of black cab drivers, and other private hire firms who have struggled to compete with the organisation, many of them being forced out of business or facing the loss of their livelihoods. Uber’s main British business paid only £411,000 in 2015, despite a turnover of £23.3m, while the commission fees from thousands of drivers in the UK disappeared into a controversial tax structure in the Netherlands. Smaller companies simply could not compete with the sheer scale of corporate tax avoidance undertaken by Uber.
Whether it’s failings on passenger safety, underpaying its drivers, or its avoidance of paying its dues in tax, Uber has got its just desserts. Hopefully, regulators from other industries will follow suit and regulations will be tightened throughout society.
Big, global companies cannot be allowed to behave however they choose, nobody is above the rules, and TfL’s decision is a victory for the people. Uber must clean up its act. And if they don’t? Well, minicabs did exist before Uber, and will continue to after Uber is gone. If Uber won’t reform its ways in London, other competitors will step up.