For those in the capital, the Uber saga either represents huge job losses and inconvenience, or a victory for workers against an elite managerial force. Both these views are contributing to a situation which could influence how students earn across Britain.
Uber is a good example of a company operating using a Gig Economy model; though thereâ€™s no official definition, hallmarks include de-facto self-employment, using apps to find work when you want it; Deliveroo and Hermes operate in a similar manner. The flexibility and ease of working like this is a draw for students, busy studying but also strapped for money, facilitating quick, easy earning in a spare hour.
Models like this are recent innovations, with the law slow to keep up. There are accusations of exploitation towards some companies, who take cuts of workers’ pay without providing support when they are unable to work. Because workers are officially self-employed, they do not receive benefits of being full employees â€“ which is one way these companies save cash. Furthermore, there are concerns that flexibility is one-sided: employers can effectively punish workers who aren’t available at certain times.
These problems were recently tackled in a Government-commissioned review, recognising the value of flexibility to those who have other commitments, but recommending increased protection for people relying on this work. It has stipulated a new class of employment as a ‘dependent contractor’ to provide more benefits to those affected.
The law hasn’t yet changed, but companies are already looking to preserve their models. Deliveroo strictly calls those working for them ‘riders’ (note: NOT employees), and has relaxed uniform rules along with paying riders per trip, to demonstrate self-employment for workers. However, this may not be enough: the new status of dependent contractor would cause a rise in costs for the company as they provide more. One student who I spoke to said this could be enough to cause him to lose his job.
That leads us back to London. Uber’s licence was revoked for, amongst other reasons, failing to screen their drivers for serious convictions. But they have previously been taken to court for the way their drivers are paid, and face similar criticisms to those levelled against Deliveroo. Despite original protest from bosses as well as some drivers, Uber has now apologised and appears to be moving towards reform and dialogue. But had they not acquiesced, up to 30,000 jobs would now be lost, and travel inconvenience would continue to abound.
This is an issue of balance faced by any Government tackling situations like this. Allowing this work can bring wealth, jobs and convenience; workers can find themselves out of a job if negotiations go wrong. But the risk has not outweighed the reward, and a better deal for drivers is in the offing. Some hail it as a victory for workers and people in general, proving corporations are not above the law. It remains to be seen whether a similar line will be taken with other companies, and whether losses of work or better deals result. In any case, it will be difficult to find models which preserve protections to individuals, whilst offering two-way flexibility.