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Uber Paradox: Gig Worker Application Intercepts and Releases Its Drivers


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Uber is seeking a five-year license from Transport for London to continue operating in the city.

On November 24, after a nervous wait, Uber will know if its license to operate in London should be renewed.

The impending decision has rekindled the debate over whether the data-driven foundation for his business model and the jobs of the "gig economy" he creates are fair.

A wave of platforms followed, offering new ways to buy and sell, rent and temporarily hire others.

Instead of salaried employees, independent contractors are paid by consumers for a specific job – a show.

Middle platforms argue that they do not employ employees, but simply connect customers with people seeking to make money.

A Trades Union Congress (TUC) survey estimates that one in 10 workers in the UK now regularly does "platform work".

No company is more symbolic of this change than Uber itself.

As a result, it has become a lightning rod for discussions of what show work really stands for.

Does it introduce new flexible and liberating ways of working, or is it the means for a kind of range control that undermines basic rights?

Abdura Hadi, a Uber driver who has been working on the streets of London for five years, has noticed a change.

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Hadi trusts working with Uber's job allocation algorithm but says he doesn't know how it works

"On average, I worked six to eight hours, six days a week, to support my family," he told me. Now he adds, "It's 10 to 12 hours."

He noted that during the period, the number of Uber drivers increased rapidly, while the number of pick-up jobs did not hold.

Rising competition has made a specific part of Uber's platform critical to the purchasing power of Hadi and his fellow drivers – the software that determines who gets each race.

However, none of them know how it works.

"My family depends on the algorithm," he explains.

"Sometimes it's scary, but if it was fair, it would be nice."

Minimum wage

The crux of the controversy surrounding Uber is that the disruption it brought is not only economical but also legal.

Definitions that were previously reasonably clear in the workplace have become blurred.

The question of whether Uber drivers are really employees is currently going through the British courts.

Even one of the most basic facts of any job has been contested: how much Uber drivers actually earn.

"It's a fact that drivers are working on less than the minimum wage," says Hadi.

However, a recent study, co-authored by researchers at the University of Oxford and Uber, based on company administrative data, reported that the average London driver earns about £ 11 per hour spent connected to the app.

This is just above London's minimum wage.

The study included vehicle operating costs and time spent between trips during login.

Data v anecdotes

Ken Jacobs, an academic at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied the hidden costs that Uber drivers and other workers face, refers to them as the five "main holes".

They include:

  • time spent waiting for rides
  • the cost of driving back to busy areas after a ride
  • vehicle maintenance and insurance
  • non-payment of sick leave, meal breaks and rest
  • lack of vacation pay

"They tend to underestimate the actual expenses a driver incurs," he said.

Meera Joshi, a former head of the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission, a regulator responsible for services like Uber throughout the city, says the data is essential.

"No data, you only have anecdotes," she told me.

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Uber was forced to pay more money to drivers in New York

"You have driver stories about low pay, but you can't quantify that."

Perhaps in the first such step, Joshi's commission forced Uber to hand over data about its drivers operating in New York.

"What we found was that the conditions were worse than what we were told by the drivers," she said.

"Ninety-six percent of drivers were earning less than the city's minimum wage. Most drivers were providing the main source of income for their families."

After the watchdog implemented minimum wage protections to cover the 80,000 New York drivers involved, an additional $ 225 million per month went back to the drivers' pockets, Joshi said.

As a result, money flowed to local neighborhoods, not to San Francisco-based Uber.

& # 39; Prison and Liberator & # 39;

The Oxford newspaper also claimed that Uber drivers had higher levels of life satisfaction than other workers, but also higher levels of anxiety.

"This is Uber's paradox," said Duncan McCann, a researcher at the New Economics Foundation.

"It's a prison and a liberator. You can just turn on the app and get down to business, but if you have a family to support, it's obviously less flexible. You need to match the peak demand: rush hours and weekends."

And Uber is just the "tip of the iceberg," he added.

"Most labor economy workers are women, caring, cleaning.

"Below water, you have platforms that openly advertise rates below the minimum wage."

Uber has taken steps to benefit drivers before the licensing deadline. For example, last week, he added a button to the app to report racism or other discriminatory passenger behavior, which promises to launch his platform if the complaint is confirmed.

But in many ways, the economics of the show simply reintroduce very old issues of workplace conditions and rights in new ways.

Previous decades have seen employees' struggles for having their rights recognized; Now the struggle is one of the workers to be recognized as employees.

Since the focus was on the power of the owners of the means of production; Now it's up to the media owners to find work over the net.

The new battlefield is not about who controls the shop floor, but who controls the data involved. Who has and what reveals.

Whatever happens on November 24, the broader debate will continue for a long time yet.

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