A landmark case against Uber has settled after Federal Court judges savaged the company for the elaborate way it tries to deny any link to its workers.
The case was backed by the TWU and involved Adelaide-based Amita Gupta, sacked after she was 10 minutes late with a food delivery.
The Federal Court judges berated Uber during the hearing when the company refused to accept that it was involved in transport, denied it had any relationship to its drivers and even stated that the link was so tenuous that drivers could abandon or steal the food orders.
The judges questioned whether Uber was “operating in the real world” and stated that “everybody knows what function Uber plays”.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said the Federal Court had exposed Uber’s sham.
“It is clear from the court hearing that Uber was on the ropes and a settlement with its former delivery driver Amita Gupta was the only option left to the company in the face of a potential judgment which would have utterly altered how the company and other gig economy companies operate in Australia. The judges’ questions to Uber exposed just how utterly ridiculous and farcical its contract contortions are when it comes to getting around our labour laws. The judges clearly saw through Uber’s spin and ‘careful contract’ and recognised the sham it is. Uber has constructed a business model in order to refuse its workers any rights, to minimum pay, the right to challenge an unfair sacking, to protective gear or training. The Federal Government has refused to hold Uber to account over this blatant charade but the Federal Court has exposed it,” he said.
“It should not take brave workers like Amita standing up to a global multi-national corporations to hold them to account. Workers across Australia should have rights and the Federal Government must take responsibility for workers across Australia who are being abused and exploited every day by the likes of Uber. We urge the Government to carefully read the transcript of the hearing and to start looking at Uber with the same jaundiced view that the Federal Court judges in this case did.”
One judge told Uber during the hearing: ““Except Uber has a longstanding reputation, if you like, in the transport business… The very name Uber would convey to the ordinary person some form of transportation service, wouldn’t it?”
Another said: “Your client has drawn up this careful contract with all these provisions in it, and either does not have a view as to what is the correct characterisation of the relationship [with its workers] or is not willing to disclose it to this court.”
At another point one of the judges said: “It’s just a bit hard to imagine that Uber would continue to provide tasks for a person who keeps absconding with the meal.”
The TWU is also currently taking a case for unfair sacking against Deliveroo and for gross underpayment against Deliveroo. The TWU is also assisting delivery riders in pursuing Deliveroo on its obligations under workplace heathy and safety laws. The TWU won a case for unfair sacking against Foodora in 2018.
Five delivery riders died while working in September and October. This prompted the NSW government to set up a taskforce. The Victorian Government is examining feedback following a report into an inquiry into the gig economy which recommended regulation of the sector. The TWU has met and written to Attorney General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Proter asking the Federal Government to intervene and protect gig economy workers.
A survey of delivery riders in September showed average earnings after costs was just over $10 an hour while almost 90% have seen their pay decrease and 70% say they are struggling to pay bills and buy food.
The pandemic has left the essential workers exposed with more than half saying they did not have enough masks, gloves and sanitiser.
More than one in three riders has been injured on the job, with the vast majority (80%) receiving no support from their company.