Author Felicity Anderson

A union has warned that transportation app Uber, is a danger to public safety, claiming that Uber drivers are, “encouraged and incentivised,” by the firm to work long hours.

The stark warning, as reported by the BBC, comes amid a busy news week for Uber as the European Court yesterday ruled that it is officially a taxi firm and not a technology company, as Uber had previously claimed.

The court case arose after Uber was told to obey local taxi rules in Barcelona with Uber arguing that it was not a cab firm but rather a computer services business.

The ruling means that the company must now follow the same rules as taxi firms across Europe, which could have implications for both Uber and its drivers.

Uber drivers aren’t currently treated as employees but operate under the so-called ‘gig economy,’ and as such aren’t provided with employee rights, such as minimum wage or holiday or sick pay.

What is Uber?

Uber is an app that enables users to book cars, track their taxi and pay for journeys, all using their smartphone.

It’s available in more than 40 towns and cities across the UK and over 3.5million passengers and 40,000 drivers reportedly use it in London alone.

Not without controversy, it has faced numerous claims of security breaches, safety concerns and squeezing traditional taxi firms.

Are Uber drivers overworked?

The day before the ruling in Luxemburg, lawyers for the GMB Union, which represents 2000 UK Uber drivers, told Westminster Magistrates’ Court it had evidence that Uber, “encourages and incentivises” its drivers to work long hours.

The hearing was to determine whether the GMB Union can take part in Uber’s fight to renew its London licence, which is currently under appeal.

GMB representative Gerry Facenna told the court that it wanted Uber to introduce a ‘maximum hours worked cap,’ for drivers, reports the BBC.

“From a public safety point of view, being driven around London by a driver who has worked a 15-hour shift is no better than being driven around by a driver who has not had background checks,” he said.

The news site further claims that the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee heard evidence from Uber drivers in February 2017, who said they were forced to work long hours to cover their costs, which included purchasing their cars.

What does Uber say?

An Uber spokesperson said it would, “shortly be introducing hours limits,” for drivers in its app and that on average, drivers spent 30 hours a week logged into its app.

“We take the issue of tired driving seriously, which is why we regularly remind drivers to take rest breaks,” Uber said.

What’s next for Uber?

Uber drivers are currently allowed to drive in London, while the firm battles with Transport London to save its licence.

The mayor of London Sadiq Khan has warned that the appeal process could “go on for a number of years”.

Uber claims that ruling in Luxemburg, meanwhile, will have little effect as they already adhere to national rules.

In the UK for example, Uber already follows UK regulations that force it to use licensed drivers.

Commentators, however, believe that the ruling could signal a change in the way that the Silicon Valley company operates, particularly in relation to employment.

Last night union boss Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, welcomed the European court ruling, she said,

“Uber must get its house in order and play by the same rules as everybody else. Their drivers are not commodities. They deserve at the very least the minimum wage and holiday pay.

‘Advances in technology should be used to make work better. Not to return to the type of working practices we thought we’d seen the back of decades ago.”