Uber drivers have disrupted the Monday morning commute in protest over cuts to their wages. Drivers across the country held a “log-off strike” for two and a half hours from 7am on Monday, 6 August, in protest against changes in Uber’s fee structure that have led to a drastic cut to their wages.
Starting in May, Uber shifted to a new “upfront fares” system in which the fee is set before the trip rather than according to the total mileage. This means that, if there is an unexpected detour or heavy traffic, or a passenger requests an extra stop, the driver is not paid for this time.
Along with other changes, this has resulted in drivers’ wages being cut by as much as half. But because Uber drivers are not considered “employees”, but rather independent contractors using the Uber app, a minimum wage is not guaranteed, nor is the industry standard for casual drivers of $30 an hour. This is the result of a Fair Work ruling last December that confirmed Uber drivers are not Uber employees, absolving Uber of any responsibility to its workers.
The log-off strike was called by Ride Share Drivers United, a group of drivers who advocate to protect drivers’ rights. Not entitled to union rights like normal employees, they organised the action through word of mouth and social media.
A RSDU founder and driver who organised the action, Max, told Red Flag, “We have a multibillion corporation exploiting workers under false pretences: short change, cheat and underpay them”.
A driver from another group, Rideshare Australia, explained, “Uber has been forcing its so called ‘contractors’ to agree with its constantly changing terms, with no option of negotiation. They simply put up a page on in the driver’s app that sets out the new terms, and if you do not accept them, you do not get to drive any more”.
One striker, a full-time Uber driver since June 2017, told Red Flag that the changes have “completely crippled my income. I used to make a living working four hours a day, and now I do unhealthy 12 hour shifts”. She asked not to be named for fear of retribution from Uber, as she can be fired – or “deactivated” – with no right to appeal. She also has to pay GST on top of income tax. “There is no way for us to make enough to put money away into super accounts for our futures”, she said.
While it is hard to confirm how many drivers participated in the action, the publicity surrounding it has led to an investigation of the changes by the Fair Work Ombudsman. Uber has remained silent.
But drivers aren’t willing to wait forever. Max confirmed, “More strikes are coming. Uber has 10 days to respond to our demands before we start the next set of disruptions. Uber is in a race to the bottom, and we are fully committed to forcing them to lift their game”.