IS IT THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR THE GIG ECONOMY?

By: Michaell Lange,

London, 26/09/17 –

London private hire drivers have won this week two major battles against two of the biggest minicab operators in a campaign to end the so called gig economy. After Uber had lost their operation licence in London, yesterday (25) was Addison Lees turn to lose a court case at a London Employment Tribunal which ruled that Addison Lee wrongly classed their drivers as self-employed. It has been a major blow for the operator and a incredible victory for drivers who have been fighting for years for better working conditions and better payment practices.

The TFL decision to refuse Ubers licence is not in any shape or form a decision against the drivers, quit the opposite. Uber drivers should celebrate this decision as it will force Uber to improve their working conditions, payment rates and terms of contract. The company will have to present Transport For London (TFL), a very good plan to tackle their bad practices in order to have their licence back, which can only means, better service for drivers and passengers. Uber don’t have to give much away in order to comply with the same rules as everyone else. Lose a market as big as London however, will be a huge blow for the business which can also lead for similar actions in other cities around the world. Personally, I don’t want Uber to go. Its undeniable that Uber offers an important service for the public, but the company must stick to the Law of the land, improve its practices and pay their drivers a decent share of the profit. Uber isn’t unique!  In the United States, there are plenty of similar operators such as Lyft.com that would be more than happy to replace Uber in London in case they fail to get their licence back. Nevertheless, I strongly doubt Uber will let London slip away.

It’s never been a more important time for private hire drivers to register to workers unions such as GMB and UPHD and help to keep the pressure on companies and regulators.

Addison Lee drivers have also a lot to celebrate this week. They made it clear they will not back off and let themselves be exploited and mistreated by greedy employers. Addison Lee drivers have fought a long way since the protests in Berkeley Square in central London, and this week the judges have recognised that Addison Lee drivers are workers and not self-employers. It is a major step forward to stop the gig economy from eroding  the bases of our society. There has been too much suffering and discontent among drivers, and for too long they have been totally ignored by operators. The tides are shifting now and professional drivers must not miss this opportunity to make lasting changes towards a safer and fairer industry.

But, none of these victories would be possible without the incredible support from our unions. Without them, it would be almost impossible for the drivers alone to fight multimillion pounds corporations in court. These corporations would most certainly continued to have their ways. But the unions were there to protect and fight for workers rights. We should be very proud and thankful for their support!

Workers must understand the importance of unions in making the justice system and the government to comply with their social responsibilities.

It is also important to understand that we cannot have a Margaret Thatcher style deregulated market, because as we know, it puts public and workers in danger of being exploited by ruthless multinational corporations. But we also cannot allow a Hugo Chaves over-regulated market, because it clearly don’t give business a fair field to operate. We must seek to find a middle ground where business are free to flourish, but the public and workers rights can at the same time, be secure and protected from abuse. London is indeed, open for business! But the message is clear, British workers will not tolerate businesses operating outside the Law. London has taken a leading position to show the world that a gig economy has no place in a fair society. Addison Lee, Uber and other companies must understand the message and accept their social responsibilities. It might not be the end of the gig economy, but it is certainly a step in that direction. London drivers will not back off!

 

 

EMPLOYMENT RIGHTS: FIRMS ARE EXPLOITING SELF-EMPLOYMENT CONTRACTS. THIS MUST STOP!

By: Michaell Lange,

London, 14/08/16 –

The Court of Justice is about to expose what has been claimed to be a scandalous employment rights’ exploitation. Delivery and minicab firms throughout the UK have been accused of denying their drivers of basic working rights such as minimum wage, sick pay and holidays, by imposing self-employment contracts upon them. This would stop these companies from complying with would otherwise, be their obligations.

It became normal practice throughout this industry. Delivery and minicab drivers have been working as self-employed sub-contractors when in most cases, the atributes of their jobs are similar or equal to those stated as workers and employees. Nevertheless, Hundreds of thousands of drivers are working with little or no employment rights at all. A spokesman from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), told The Guardian newspaper last week that, “An individual’s employment status is determined by the reality of the working relationship and not the type of contract they have signed”. If that is the case, almost all minicab and delivery drivers working in the UK on the bases of a self-employment contract, should have their employment status upgraded to worker or employee. “Individuals cannot opt out of the rights they are owed, nor can an employer decide not to afford individuals those rights. Employers cannot simply opt out of the National Living Wage (NLW) by defining their staff as self-employed.” (The Guardian)

How it works

If you are looking to become a delivery/minicab driver, you will be asked with few exceptions, to sign a contract with one of many operators in the country. You will need to have a full UK driving license and a PCO license (if you want to carry passengers). You will then, be given a van, a motorbike or a car, depending on the type of the job you are signing up for. It works on a rental contract. A XDA or PDA will also be provided so you can receive details of jobs you are going to do. You will also be given uniform, ID badge and a call sign. Once you are ready to go, you will receive jobs, but only from the company you have signed up for. You are not allowed to work for anybody else. Do it privately or pick up a passenger without pre-booking and you will be breaking the Law. As a private hire driver, you are only allowed to pickup passengers with pre-bookings. Your company (not you), will decide which driver will get a particular job as well as, how much you will be paid for it. Unless you are a car owner, you will be using a company car, usually with the company logo on it, an uniform and equipment. They will have total control over how many jobs and how much they will pay you every day. Your responsibility is to be available for work as long as possible. You are required to work at least 12 hours a day. The courier company charge a commission fee on each job you do which can be up to 60%, plus car rental and insurance. Any damage to the car or equipment and you will be charged for it. You also have to pay for any traffic related incidents like penalty charges, punctured tyres, broken windscreen, windows and fuel. All time lost on repairs, services and recovery, are at your cost. You are not entitle to receive sick pay, overtime, or holiday.

You have to log in to the company’s system at the start of your shift and wait for the first job to come in. Once you have a job, you must do it, although, some companies allow up to 25 seconds on ASAP jobs for the driver to accept or refuse it. However, refusing a job can put you in serious trouble with the company, and if you keep refusing jobs you will be made inactive. So for instance, if you live in Richmond and you are in central London waiting for a job towards home after your 12 hour shift and you are given a job going to Stansted, you are expected to do it, even if you have to drive 30 miles empty back home.

In most cases, the first job is quickly allocated, but during half-terms and school holidays it can take up to an hour. During summer, specially during July and August, some drivers might work 12 hours shift and do as little as 3 or 4 jobs. The costs on insurance and rent remains the same throughout the year. January is also a very quite month. During these periods, a van and minicab driver, working 12 hours a day, six days a week might get up to £450 pounds before costs. Costs are usually: Rent: £100/170 pounds; Insurance: £55/70 pounds; fuel: £100 pounds and Tax. That is per week, considering you have no traffic related incidents. It is not unusual to see drivers working on a loss during down periods. Even during pick times it is getting harder and harder for drivers to breakeven. This is where companies benefit from self-employment contracts, as they have no obligations such as sick pay, holiday and minimum wage towards their drivers. Drivers on the other hand, have no rights and have to bare all the costs. Companies can also hire as many drivers as they please as they have no added costs in doing so. It increases availability and consequently  increases their revenue. However, for the drivers it means more competition, less jobs and consequently less revenue. The car rent paid by the drivers usually pays all the costs the company would have with the car, and that’s including the leasing contracts. At the end of the leasing contract the company will have a car which can be sold for a clean profit. The drivers that actually paid the lease by paying car rental every week, gets nothing in return.

After the introduction of UBER in 2013, and the arrival of private equity firms to control many of the big companies, job prices are going down to attract more costumers. They are also charging more from drivers to work for them. Lowering the prices is a good thing to attract more costumers, but in some cases drivers are paying the full cost of these changes while companies will not lose any revenue by lowering prices. Some companies for instance, are giving up to 30% discount to passengers during off pick, but this 30% discount is entirely paid by the driver. Commission are also up. Cash jobs used to be commission free. Now there is a 20% commission on it. In many cases the driver has a 50% cut on his payment at the start of a job, and that’s even before they pay for car rent, insurance and fuel. In these cases, drivers will be left with almost nothing at the end of the job. There are many cases where after 70 to 80 hour worth of driving in a week, your average payment can be as little as £4 pounds per hour, much lower than the legal minimum wage. Anyone earning £4 pounds a hour in London will be fighting to survive. So for example: on a cash job from SW1 London to Heathrow, the  driver used to be paid an average of £70 pounds. Today, the driver has to pay 20% commission to the company he/she works for, plus 30% discount given by the company and charged from the driver. That means, the driver will now be paid £35 pounds before car rent, insurance, Fuel and tax, if there is no traffic related incidents. At the end of the job you will be left with as little as £10 pounds. But, this is not all. Once you drop off a passenger at the airport, you can either drive back to central London empty, or wait for a job at the airport which can take at least 2 hours as you are placed in a queue system. Either way, the driver will lose money by driving back to town empty, or waste at least 2 hours waiting for another job at the airport. It became a no win situation made worse by a self-employment contract that gives little or no rights to drivers and no obligations from the company you work for.

What we have noticed as result of these new corporate strategies, is that companies are increasing their revenue while drivers (the only source of revenue for most of courier companies) are experiencing a sharp drop of up to 50% on their earnings. In the other hand, to keep their heads above the water, drivers have been forced to work longer hours, which in return, increases availability and improve even more the company’s results. There are many reports of drivers working over 100 hours a week  just to make ends meet. It is utterly unfair and extremely dangerous for everybody including costumers.

Big courier companies have been able to get away with it for years, but now it seems drivers had enough. There are countless court cases against courier and minicab companies going through the courts at the moment. If the Courts decide these drivers should be treated as workers or employees, companies throughout the country will have to pay compensation as well as upgrade their drivers status from self-employed to workers status. That means they will have to pay the same rights as any worker should have in the first place. It will change the industry as a whole and stop companies from abuse the system for their own benefit. The future of thousands of families throughout the UK are depending on how the Courts will rule these cases. If justice is to be above money, drivers must have some money back and the culture of abuse should stop immediately. Justice must be done for professional drivers.

 

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/aug/14/deliveroo-told-it-must-pay-workers-minimum-wage?CMP=twt_gu

 

WE MUST UNITE AGAINST EXPLOITATION

By: Michaell Lange,

London, 30/06/16 –

 

Individualism Is Our Downfall: We Must Unite Against Exploitation

I have to recognise the incredible talent of those in power to be so successful in the campaign to convince the workers that those people fighting for workers rights are not good for the workers.

It makes me angry to see workers being “economically raped” and deprived from their ability to live a decent life and somehow, accept these conditions almost without protest. Workers in general, don’t understand that no matter the company we work for, we are all workers and our standard of living is under attack by greedy corporations backed by our own governments. The bases of society, where most of us work and live, has been starved of money forcing workers to fight for ever reduced earnings and rights. It looks like the perfect financial model from the point of view of the current diabolic unregulated financial system we are trapped in. The same people who starve workers from a decent and fair salary, are the ones who will keep you on a tight leash by borrowing you money you so desperately need and they know you will struggle to pay, so they can always keep you under control. This way they will also take everything else you may have acquired before with your hard work including your car, your furniture, and even your house.

Your level of agreement with the idea described above depends on how far down the line you are now. You might be reading this article thinking: “What a load of nonsense!” If that’s your case, you are either a billionaire or it is just a matter of time for you to agree with me further along the line, unfortunately. It’s like the captain of Titanic thinking how his ship is unsinkable just to tragically realise later on, how sinkable his ship actually was. I say that because I have been in that position before. I was a believer that hard work would always be compensated. I was naive just like most of us are. I had know idea how aggressive and inhuman some of these multinacional corporations really are. Since we ware born it seems we are conditioned to see Banks and Multinacional Corporations as good things, but they are at least partly responsible for keeping half of the world in poverty by scooping the money from the peripheries of society and keeping it concentrated in one place.

However, most of the people on the top such as bankers and high corporate executives, are not all evil people. I drive some of them to and from work as well as to and from airports everyday. They are mostly, genuinely good people with family and children, and like anybody else, they want the best for their families. The problem starts when they get together to make money at all costs with no regards to other people in society including the person who drive them to and from work everyday. This is where stakeholders become dehumanised and easy target. This is where workers in the 21st century become modern slaves and big corporations become the slave masters.

It all seems to be driven by a simple equation involving cost cut + increasing profit = fat bonuses. Nothing apparently wrong with that until workers earnings become a fair game for these vultures. Then, it become immoral and a crime against the people. Some will laugh: Crime against people? Yes! Of course, there is no such thing as a crime against people in the law, but that tells us another story. The reason why there is a lack of legislation to protect workers’ rights is that the same people who deprive the workers from a decent salary, are the same people who finance political parties as well as their electoral campaigns. They are the same people who somehow, are able to convince you over and over again to vote for their candidates and not for the candidates that would work and represent you in government. They make candidates who would genuinely fight for the workers rights to look bad. Jeremy Corbyn might be the biggest example of such culture. He is considered unelectable because of his visions towards workers and the rights of general men and women of this country, but he is just one example. There are many others.

Today, workers are losing their employment rights all over the world, and this phenomenon is not restricted to developing countries anymore. Workers in rich countries such as Britain, are also losing their ability to earn a living as a result of a combination of an unregulated market, which allows big corporations to freely exploit workers on self-employment and zero hour contracts with little or no employment rights at all, and the rising on the costs of living. It is not rocket science, if your cost of living is rising and your earnings are decreasing, you are heading for a crash! We mustn’t be negligent as the captain of Titanic was. We must steer the ship away from the iceberg before it’s too late, and the best way to do it is by getting united and work smartly. Don’t criticise tube drivers, Junior doctors and other workers when they decide to strike. We must support them because tomorrow might be our turn to be supported by society. Don’t criticise black-cab drivers for their protest. They need to be supported because we are on the same boat. The same works for Uber drivers. They have been exploited by big corporations just like we are. Fight each other will do no good for us. We must unite and support each other to fight for workers rights and better conditions at work.

We have been victims of an economic system I call “vacuum cleaner”. It means, Hedge funds and big corporations are sucking up the money from the economy and piling it up in tax-heavens across the world for the benefit of a shrinking group of people while the rest of the planet is forced to live on debt. Hedge-funds buy what used to be good companies, with thousands of happy workers, just to strip them from every possible penny including workers earnings, so they can pay back to shareholders as dividends before sell them off and move to the next company, and the next and so on. When they go they leave behind a trail of misery and struggling workers with little or no employment rights at all. They have no regards to the future of these companies or the future of the stakeholders. They have no sense of social responsibility or care for their practices. It is all about money, with no regards for human relations. In addition, there is no legislation to stop these people and these companies from carrying on with these dirty practices. It is all legal! Self-employed and zero hour contracts are growing fast, and if the government or the workers do nothing about it, this will dominate the work place in the future with workers rights being a thing of the past.

Although, companies such as Addison Lee and Uber among others have been taken to court by their workers, it’s all about the way the judges interpret the Law which doesn’t always represents the needs of workers. It’s also down to how much money one can pay for Lawyers. Justice is supposed to be a human right where everyone should have access regardless of their financial conditions, but it seems that justice has become a commodity at an auction where whoever pay more will get it. In that case, the big corporations are the ones who got more money and therefore, they are the ones who wins most of the times. Nevertheless, the workers have a chance, and it’s called UNION. The unions are the biggest tool workers can have to defend themselves against abuse. Even for those on self-employment contracts can be supported and defended by unions. In Britain, the GMB has done an incredible job for professional self-employed drivers, and they have been a vital force for good in that field. Unions such as GMB are in many cases, the only defence for workers against exploitation. Workers must understand that the only way we can promote positive changes to improve our livelihoods is by understanding the power we have when we are united, specially when we are supported by unions such as GMB.

Workers must never accept their situation as unchangeable. No matter the excuses big corporations and governments give to justify their exploitation policies, workers should never stop fighting for their rights. Actions must be taken against exploitation and we should never accept unfair conditions imposed on us by people who don’t care about our lives. Individualism and egoism are two important tools used by governments and big corporations to keep people under control. Remember Margaret Thatcher when she said: “there is no such thing as society”. Indeed, it’s not in their interests to see the people united. They know they cannot exploited people when they are united. That is the same reason Addison Lee don’t want to see their drivers united. That is the reason companies don’t like to see their workers registered with unions. We are strong when we are united and very weak when we are just individuals. Understanding the world we are living in is vital on the fight against exploitation. If we keep thinking only about ourselves instead of thinking about those around us, we will continue to be victims of our own ignorance. I lost my job for a cause I believe in. Two other friends lost their jobs too. Like most of us, we have families, we have children, but we did what we think is the right think. We haven’t done anything wrong. We were exercising our legal rights to protest against unfair working conditions and unfair payment policies imposed on us. I don’t regret doing what I believe is the right think and I think all of us should do the same. This is the only way we can fight back and stop abusive working policies and neglecting governments. Workers have only each other to fight against exploitation, and when we are united and organised in working unions, we are bigger than our problems. Individualism is our downfall. We must support each other as part of a community, as part of our society. We must care about each other. We must help each other to resolve our common issues and this way we will be able to build a better society for us and for future generations.