Uber drivers in London divided over ban threat

October 13, 2017 by Antoine Pollez
Uber drivers in London are worried about the consequences for their personal finances if the ride-hailing app loses its appear a
Uber drivers in London are worried about the consequences for their personal finances if the ride-hailing app loses its appear against a ban in the British capital.

Since he was forced to abandon his construction business in Iraq and move to London to escape the advance of the Islamic State group, the US ride-hailing app Uber has become Adam's livelihood.

Now as the US ride-hailing app files an appeal against a ban from London, the 46-year-old Iraqi is worried that his newfound stability could crumble.

Adam, who requested his surname not be published, passes his days connected to the app—from midday to 1.00 am on weekdays and until 3.00 am on weekends.

"My life is Uber," Adam told AFP.

His work has enabled him to move out of his friend's home, where he lived for free, and rent a studio apartment alone.

Despite working seven days a week, he is pleased with Uber for helping him.

"I am happy to pay tax, I feel I am a good citizen," added Adam, a divorced father of two.

After all expenses, he earns around £2,000 (2,200 euros, $2,600) a month with his Toyota Prius.

'If Uber goes'

The value of Uber operating in the city has been questioned in recent weeks, after Transport for London (TfL) announced last month it would not be renewing the company's licence.

The way the firm reports serious criminal offences and obtains criminal record checks for its driver contributed to the decision, which will affect around 40,000 drivers and 3.5 million customers in London.

Adam, who fears he will have to start again if Uber loses its appeal, said the ruling was "unfair" and described the app as "the safest transportation" in the city.

Another driver, Aphrem Andebrhan, said he does not share the same worries over TfL's decision.

"If Uber goes, another Uber is going to come. They cannot stop the technology; this is progress," said the 46-year-old, who became a driver in December.

Andebrhan has no intention of returning to his former job in a warehouse, finding Uber more compatible with caring for his children.

"If my wife works in the morning, I come pick them up, and drive them to school," he said.

As a self-employed worker, he sets aside £100 a week to cover any sickness or holidays he takes.

"Here you can make roughly £15 an hour, take away £5 expenses, you get £10 an hour," he said of his finances, critical of other drivers who have called on Uber to pay them the .

"Flexibility. That's why I'm an Uber driver. Minimum wage... Are you joking?"

'Really, really long hours'

But such flexibility has been criticised by MP Frank Field, president of parliament's work and pensions committee, in a December 2016 report about Uber and the "gig economy".

"Drivers who have worked with Uber for several years were keen to note in their testimonies how pleased they were during their early months with the company.

"However, it was reported to us how the fares and conditions have so deteriorated in the past two years that, as a result, many drivers now feel trapped," Field said.

He pointed to the 25-percent commission now taken by Uber for all drivers who have joined since 2015 and the overcrowded market in London, which has seen 15,000 new drivers sign up to the company in eight months during 2017.

One of the drivers who chose to give up on Uber was James Farrar, who spent two years giving rides in his Ford Mondeo. He had worked seven days a week and calculated he earned just £5.30 an hour.

"The problem becomes that you have to work really, really long hours to make any money," Farrar said.

Farrar is one of the two drivers to have brought a complaint against Uber for failing to pay the national minimum wage.

They won their case at the first stage but the company is in the process of appealing, with a decision expected at the end of the year.

Despite his criticism of the way the ride-hailing app operates, Farrar is convinced Uber should be allowed to continue operating in the British capital.

Voicing concern for the thousands of who could lose their income, he said: "TfL should absolutely keep Uber's licence. But make them abide by the law."

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