The following article appeared in the October 2017 issue of RMT news and illustrates the support the London Taxi branch receives from Unity House.
TRANSPORT FOR LONDON BOOTS OUT UBER
Union plays key role in the decision by threating legal action
RMT welcomed Transport for London’s ruling last month that minicab app firm Uber will not be issued with a private hire operator licence renewal.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said that Uber had consistently failed to reach acceptable standards of service, safety and security.
‘’We applaud this decision which is a victory for passengers and also a vital step in protecting the livelihoods of the skilled and experienced London Taxi drivers who are being unfairly undercut by Uber.
This is a success for our campaigning and all those who work in the trade and must be a stepping stone to end the deregulation in the industry which has created such chaotic, unsafe and exploitative conditions.
The next steps should include the introduction of a statutory definition of plying for hire and also for MPs to get behind the Private members Bill put forward by Daniel Zeichner MP to reform the Taxi and private hire industry,’’ he said.
For many years London Taxi drivers have been regulated to protect often vulnerable passengers and drivers have had to prove that they are fit and proper to do so.
Minicab drivers have been able to transport people provided those journeys are pre-booked. However, this important distinction has recently been undermined by Uber.
Uber is a US software company, operating in the UK via a network of companies routed through low tax jurisdictions. It matches people who want services, with those providing them.
It set up in many cities, offering services that were frequently prohibited or were provided in a way that is incompatible with existing rules.
Uber’s approach was to disregard or fudge existing regulations in order to become established and deal with compliance later.
In London, there was sufficient legal ambiguity to enable regulators to drag their feet about blocking Uber. Transport for London decided that while rules limiting who could pick up passengers – known as ‘’plying for hire’’ and ‘’ranking for hire’’ – are well established, they may not extend to transactions carried out online. Specifically, TfL stated that it was unclear whether a minicab advertising its availability and location to passengers on an electronic platform amounts to ‘’plying for hire’’.
Once established, Uber ratcheted up the commission which it charged drivers, who have been found by the employment tribunal to be bogusly self-employed, thereby cutting their earnings to below minimum wage level.
Despite growing evidence that low pay had forced drivers to work excessive hours the company became politically too big to fail.
RMT has been leading the fight back against the company, lobbying politicians, holding protests, organising a letter writing campaign, feeding into consultative committees and threatening legal action.
In the face of a vast expansion in the minicab fleet, leading to road congestion which has sent average traffic speeds in central London to eight mph and faced with evidence of sex attacks on passengers, the authorities ran out of excuses not to act.
The union put pressure on TfL, the Mayor and the Metropolitan Police by threating legal action. RMT attacked the ongoing illegality of Uber’s operational practices since its original license grant in 2012 and their continued flaunting of the law on ‘’plying for hire’’
As a result TfL and the London Mayor updated the law to explicitly extend existing rules to online platforms and now TfL has declined to renew Uber’s license on the grounds of public safety.
RMT believes that Uber has not had a valid operational basis for holding their license under the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 since the original grant of their licence and continue to operate illegally.
The union considers that while TfL has made some headway in addressing the serious public safety concerns associated with Uber, it is still awaiting a response from TfL regarding the illegality of Uber’s practices in relation to their operational model and the issue of their drivers illegally ‘’plying for hire’’.
The union has also questioned allowing Uber to continue operating while it appeals TfL’s decision, when the basis of TfL’s decision not to renew the license was made on the grounds that Uber were not fit and proper to hold the license and that there are serious concerns for public safety.
Concern for public safety is a key reason not to permit operation during appeal under 26(2) of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 and this appears to have been previously overlooked in relation to Uber.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the media at party conference that TfL was doing the ‘’right thing’’ by refusing to renew the minicab firm’s permission to operate in the capital.
‘’TFL are there to protect all of us and I think they are doing the right thing and obviously people need to be able to travel, obviously they want to be able to access cabs.
Those cabs must be safe, must be regulated and must be available for all,’’ he said.
Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said that the company was ‘’a disgrace.
You have to abide by the law and if the company was outside the law, what could Transport for London do?
Four months ago they were told to get their act together and they didn’t,’’ he said.