Uber is appealing against its license ban – but drivers union warns of “epidemic of violence”

A new survey has found that nearly half of Uber drivers have been assaulted. Now the union representing them is accusing TfL of "sabotage".

A customer calling an Uber cab by mobile

Gig-economy giant Uber has started its appeal against Transport for London (TfL) decision to revoke to company’s license to operate in the capital.

But the proceedings come at the worst of times, as the union representing Uber workers, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), found out that nearly half of all drivers say they’ve been assaulted.

In a survey conducted by the United Private Hire Drivers branch, the union found how 78% of drivers were threatened with violence and a further 80% had fallen victim of hate crimes.

Three quarters of those quizzed also told the union that their employer “rarely or never supports them with police complaints including disclosure of the identity of offending passengers.”

United Private Hire Drivers chair James Farrar, who is also a co-lead claimant in a legal case against Uber, said:

“Private hire drivers working for Uber and others are suffering horrendous levels of violence and abuse at work as well as being denied their statutory worker rights. It’s right that Uber be held accountable for passenger safety in court this week but now both Uber and TfL also need to be held accountable for the catastrophic levels of violence suffered by drivers working in London’s booming minicab trade.”

TfL sabotaging trade union efforts

The IWGB now argues that TfL “sabotaged” the union’s effort to cooperate with the police.

According to an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report handed to the union, the former head of the Metropolitan Police Cab Enforcement Unit, Inspector Neil Billany, was told not to attend meetings with the IWGB by Silka Kennedy-Todd, TfL’s Head of Stakeholder Relations for Taxi and Private Hire.

Transport for London, which manages the capital’s public transport infrastructure, has so far refused to recognise the union representation of 113,000 private hire drivers.

Billany is no longer at the healm of the Met’s Cab Enforcement Unit and the new head is said to meet quarterly with the IWGB. Tfl, however, continues to deny the union its recognition.

United Private Hire Drivers branch secretary Yaseen Aslam said:

“TfL’s behind the scenes attempt to derail our good faith efforts to work directly with the Metropolitan Police to improve safety and security of our members and their passengers is a shameful betrayal of the public interest. Once again we see disturbing evidence of institutional racism at play within Transport for London which must now be urgently tackled.”

Uber’s court appeal

TfL decided Uber was not “fit and proper” to operate in London in September last year. But even with its licence revoked, the company’s cars continue to operate in the capital pending a court hearing starting today.

The procedure has already seen Uber apply for an 18-month rather than five year licence, which many have deemed an appeasement offer from the multinational to London’s transport regulator. Clearly it has had some effect, as TfL’s list has shrunk from 25 areas of concern to a mere 11 in the months that followed.

New Economics Foundation principal director for unions and business, Stefan Baskerville, dubbed this Uber’s “charm offensive”.

But with new figures revealing the dangers facing Uber drivers, the company’s court appeal looks uncertain.

Joana Ramiro is a reporter for Left Foot Forward. You can follow her on Twitter for all sorts of rants here

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