A London-based female Uber driver has issued sex discrimination proceedings against the embattled ride-sharing company, claiming it unfairly disadvantages women who work for the the group.
The claims come at a turbulent time for Uber.
In a shock move on Friday, Transport for London announced that it was revoking the group’s licence to operate in the capital, reasoning that Uber’s approach and conduct “demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications”.
Separately, Uber is seeking to overturn a controversial landmark ruling ordering it to give drivers basic employee rights. A hearing is due to take place on Wednesday.
The latest accusations stem from a 44-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous, and are being brought by the GMB union, represented by law firm Leigh Day. The woman claims that Uber, through the way that it operates, is putting her and other women at risk.
She said that drivers with the company do not know their passenger’s destination until that passenger is already in the car. If that passenger’s journey is to a remote or unsafe area, the driver then has no option to cancel the journey.
If a customer becomes aggressive in the car, she says, the driver cannot cancel the journey. Asking a passenger to leave the car could lead to a customer complaint and a low rating, which in turn could affect future work.
The claim, brought at the Central London Employment Tribunal, demands that Uber should allow drivers to challenge complaints as well as low ratings, so that drivers do not risk losing their jobs if they ask passengers to leave their cars for their own safety.
“Once again we have a member with serious concerns about Uber’s systems and practices, which place the basic safety needs of the worker as secondary to the imposition of a rigid and purely profit-based model,” said Maria Ludkin, GMB’s legal director.
“We look forward to allowing the courts to examine whether this aspect of their model discriminates against women drivers”.
Nigel Mackay, a lawyer in the employment team at Leigh Day who is representing the driver, said that he does not think that Uber’s current policies “do enough to protect female drivers”.
“Our client no longer feels able to drive in the evening or at night time, suffering a loss of income as a result,” he said.
“We believe that Uber should not only ensure the safety of its passengers but also all of its drivers, and provide as much protection as possible to women to ensure that they are not vulnerable to assaults from passengers.”
Responding the accusations, a spokesperson from Uber said that drivers on the app are “free to log in and out as they want and can choose which trips they want to take, or cancel, without any penalty”.
“If a driver doesn’t want to go to a particular area there is no obligation for them to do so. Drivers can also set a preferred destination in the app and Uber will only allocate bookings heading that way,” the spokesperson added.
“One of the main reasons why women choose to drive with Uber is because of the safety features in the app. All trips are GPS tracked and a driver is able to share a live map of their trip with a friend or loved one.”
According to tribunal submissions seen by The Independent, Uber will accuse judges of failing to understand “basic” law and instead engaging in “legally irrelevant” and unfair criticism.
In the skeleton argument submitted ahead of the hearing, lawyers for Uber insist that contrary to what the judges have said, Uber drivers are “in no sense in an employment relationship” with the company.
“Rather, Uber acts as the driver’s agent, in referring passengers to him ... for [which] it receives payment [for] each trip.”
An estimated 40,000 people currently work as drivers for Uber in London. The company has confirmed that it is appealing TfL’s decision last week to revoke its licence and on Monday the San Francisco group’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, in an open letter pleaded for Uber to be allowed to continue operating in the capital – one of its most important European markets.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is also chairman of TfL, has since said that he is open to TfL holding talks with Mr Khosrowshahi on the matter.
An estimated 3.5 million people use Uber in London and a petition to grant Uber a continued licence had garnered almost 790,000 virtual signatures by Tuesday afternoon.
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