September 16, 2019

'It's slavery': union takes on Uber Eats after driver banned for being late | The Australian

Ewin Hannan, September 16, 2019

The Transport Workers Union has launched a significant legal ­action against Uber, hoping the case will advance the Australian rights of gig-economy workers.

The TWU is appealing against a decision by the Fair Work Commission that a sacked Uber Eats driver was an independent contractor, not an employee, thus not entitled to claim unfair dismissal.

Amita Gupta and her husband Santosh at their home in Mansfield Park, Adelaide. Picture: Kelly Barnes

Amita Gupta lost her job after she and her husband, Santosh Gupta, did 2200 Uber Eats deliveries in Adelaide from 2017 to January this year. Mr Gupta said they were paid $19,000 over 18 months but had work expenses, including petrol and vehicle costs of $9000.

He said that during one week the couple were logged on to work for 96 hours but were paid just $300. When Ms Gupta was 10 minutes late with a delivery, her access to the phone app was cut off.

In its appeal, the union said the commission erred by failing to take into account that Ms Gupta was not operating her own independ­ent business and the degree of “effectiv­e control” exercised by Uber over its relationship with her, including the way she was paid.

Mr Gupta said he and his wife, who both have disabilities and receive­ a pension, felt exploited.

“We are living here in Aust­ralia. How come in Australia a company can do this? It’s slavery,’’ Mr Gupta told The Australian. “It is exploitation and I thought it would be good to take the matter to court for the other drivers.”

TWU national secretary Mich­ael Kaine said Uber workers had “zero control over their work, they cannot set rates and are entirely directed by an algorithm which allocat­es work based on an arbit­rary ratings system”.

“It is not the hallmark of an independent contractor to have to be logged on for hours to an app in the hope of getting some orders, then having to accept whatever comes in and carrying out the work in quick time for as little as $6,” he said. “This is more akin to the working terms and conditions from the Hungry Mile a century ago, where workers trawled Sydney’s docks for hours for work.”

He said the case was “significant as Uber was leading the race to the bottom across the world in obliterating rights for workers’’.

“We believe a victory will prompt other courts in Australia to recognise rights for gig-economy workers, but the case will also pile pressure on the federal government to intervene on the side of workers and protect their rights.”

In its original decision, the commission said Ms Gupta rejected more than 550 delivery requests­, and cancelled a further 240 after having accepted them.

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