Lawyers representing Uber workers have accused the company of “doublespeak” and speaking with “forked tongues” over claims of job creation and its relationship with drivers.
The minicab app company is fighting legal action from drivers who argue they are employees of the organisation rather than independent operators running their own businesses.
Uber says it is a technology company rather than a transport provider, working with “driver partners” who have a “commonality of interest” and offering them flexibility to control how much and often they work.
But Thomas Linden QC, representing James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam in two test cases, suggested to the central London employment tribunal that Uber was hiding behind language to claim that its drivers are not employees of the business.
He cited a response from Uber to Transport for London in October 2014 in which the company claimed it could “generate tens of thousands of jobs in the UK” by working with jobcentres and agencies to help people become Uber drivers.
Linden told Jo Bertram, Uber’s UK general manager, that the statement was “blowing Uber’s trumpet as a creator of jobs”.
Bertram suggested the word “jobs” had been misused, telling the tribunal: “I am saying the correct word to use here is an ‘economic opportunity to earn money’.”
But Linden accused the company of boasting about the idea of job creation when it suited it but dismissing the idea that drivers were employees when it did not. He said: “My suggestion to you is that Uber speaks with forked tongues.”
Bertram replied: “We emphasise that it is ‘economic opportunities’. I agree that use of the word ‘jobs’ in this context may be misleading but we are very proud of the economic opportunities that we offer.”
Linden also accused Uber of doublespeak when he said on the one hand it described itself as a technology company, like Apple, but on the other told passengers it was offering them “Uber transport” with “Uber drivers”.
He suggested a process the company calls “onboarding” was actually another word for recruitment, saying to Bertram: “You want to avoid any idea that drivers may have an employment relationship with Uber.”
Bertram replied: “Because they don’t.”
The tribunal also heard that of the 30,000 registered Uber drivers in London, 99.9% operate individually, and just 68 run small businesses with other drivers operating under them as other Uber drivers.
In her witness statement, Bertram cited a poll of 551 Uber drivers that showed the majority in the capital did not use the Uber app platform on a full-time basis, that 72% use it for less than 40 hours a week, and more than 50% use Uber to supplement their main income.
But Linden said Uber had commissioned the work to support its case in the tribunal, and it was nothing to do with employment rates.
He suggested that important statistics – 61% of drivers do not have another job, and 80% of drivers say their Uber work is a significant source of income and rely on it for their livelihoods – were buried.
Bertram dismissed his claim that Uber had asked for the poll to support its case as “a bit of a stretch”, saying: “It showcases the opportunities available to drivers.”
In her statement, Bertram said drivers were their own boss and were under no obligation to log on to the Uber app. She said: “They can do so whenever they choose, at whatever time they choose. There is also no requirement on them to only use the Uber platform.
“They can contract with, work for or be employed by any company or also have other business interests on a self-employed basis.”
The tribunal, which continues on Friday, is the first time Uber has faced legal action in the UK over whether its drivers are workers or self-employed.
The test cases will determine another 17 claims that have been brought against Uber and could have wider implications for thousands more drivers across the country.
Source: The Guardian