London is first city in Britain to ban heavily criticised taxi multinational from the roads
ONLINE taxi service giant Uber had its London licence refused yesterday in what has been described as a “major blow” for the exploitative practices of the so-called gig economy.
Transport for London (TfL) bosses rejected Uber’s licence renewal — its current one expires on September 30 — on the grounds that it is not a “fit and proper” private car hire operator.
Drivers’ union GMB hailed the decision as a “historic victory for workers’ rights and passenger safety” after they delivered a 100,000-strong petition to City Hall on Monday calling for the fi rm to “respect workers’ rights or get out of London.”
Uber insists its business is merely maintaining a mobile phone app that enables users to book cars from smartphones in cities across the world and its drivers are self-employed.
However GMB won a landmark case last year when an employment tribunal ruled that Uber’s “self-employed” drivers are actually workers entitled to basic rights including holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and regular breaks.
TfL said it was concerned that Uber’s approach and conduct “demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility” in relation to reporting serious criminal offences, obtaining medical certificates and driver background checks. It was also concerned by the company’s use of “greyball” software in its app, specifically designed to evade regulators and police.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that “Uber’s fate was entirely of its own making” and should be a “cautionary tale to gig economy employers.”
“Firms have a choice. They can either sit down with us and work out a fair deal for workers. Or they can end up in court and over the front pages. Today’s ruling shows the power of union campaigning. And it’s a huge result for GMB.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he “fully supports” TfL’s decision and warned that “all companies in London must play by the rules and adhere to the high standards we expect — particularly when it comes to the safety of customers.”
And shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald blasted the Tories for failing to act on the Law Commission’s recommendations on the wholesale reform of the sector made more than three years ago.
He said Uber’s practices seem to be designed to circumvent regulations and help it dodge its responsibilities “undermining passenger safety and workers’ rights throughout the industry.”
Uber said that it would immediately appeal the decision and warned that “3.5 million Londoners who use our app, and more than 40,000 licensed drivers who rely on Uber to make a living, will be astounded by this decision.”
In a statement the company said the ruling would “show the world that, far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies.”
GMB national officer Maria Ludkin promised the union would always challenge “bogus self-employment and exploitation” and said the decision should be “a wake-up call to a company that has for far too long been in denial.”
Independent Workers’ of Great Britain (IWGB) spokesman James Farrar warned the decision would be a “devastating blow” to Uber drivers and said that cancelling the company’s licence was a mistake, suggesting TfL should have “strengthened its regulatory oversight” instead.
However Unite London regional chair Jim Kelly from the union’s black cab section praised Mr Khan and TfL for “putting the safety of passengers and Londoners ahead of the big corporate interests of Uber.” and refusing to allow London to become the “wild west” of the cab trade.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the decision was a “stepping stone” to ending deregulation in the industry and urged people to back Labour MP Daniel Zeichner’s private member’s Bill calling for reform of the taxi and private hire industry.
Uber has 21 days to appeal against the decision, with experts suggesting any subsequent court case could last years.