What Uber's New License to Operate in London Means for Gig Workers in the EU

A recent proposal included a retooling of rules for treatment of Uber drivers, and at the same time more than 28 million people in the EU who work on digital labour platforms.

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The debate around gig economy workers in the EU is ongoing.

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Take Uber for example. The technology platform that enables approved drivers to be matched with paying travelers using an app was recently granted a two-and-a-half year license to operate in London. The ride-hailing app was previously denied a license by Transport for London in the fall of 2019. A judge upheld the company's appeal in September of 2020, granting it an 18-month license at that time. Deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram said at the time that while he had taken Uber's "track record of regulation breaches" into consideration, he felt the tech company had made an effort to improve on its failings.

Uber UK's official Twitter account said the company was "delighted" to announce the news and added that Transport for London "rightly holds our industry to the highest regulatory and safety standards."

"We are pleased to have met their high bar," said the company.

Uber also committed to a focus "on raising industry standards in all areas. These include offering drivers the benefits and protections they deserve, ensuring all Londoners can get around safely and becoming a fully electric platform by 2025."

Both of those commitments are notable and could potentially impact European businesses: In February of 2021, the UK's Supreme Court ruled that Uber drivers are workers, not self-employed, and must be treated as such. In December of last year, the European Commission proposed new rules that would be tough on gig economy companies and pass certain expenses on to customers, while establishing certain protections for workers. The proposal didn't only include a retooling of rules for treatment of Uber drivers, but more than 28 million people in the EU who work on digital labour platforms—a number expected to balloon to 43 million by 2025. While most of them are self-employed, an estimated 5.5 million are incorrectly classified that way.

If this comes to pass, Uber will need to contend with the new rules and treat drivers as workers. Business owners who rely on Uber for transport may also expect increases in prices.

Uber's vow to become entirely electrically fleeted by 2025 is also notable from a business standpoint. Electric vehicles are becoming a bigger part of Europe's production—and numerous countries within the EU are moving to make them more common, edging out vehicles that run on petrol. Uber's embrace of this mission is further proof that if your business relies on petrol, it's time to start thinking of a new strategy before your business becomes obsolete.

While Uber celebrated its new license, not everyone was pleased. The App Drivers & Couriers Union released a statement last week, calling it "yet another tragically missed opportunity for [London Mayor] Sadiq Khan to make worker rights a condition of license for Uber and to finally bring an end to the abuse of 100,000 gig workers licensed by Transport for London."

The statement went on, "Uber has failed to abide by the Supreme Court ruling from last year and continues to cheat drivers out of pay for waiting time which is about 50 percent of working time. The Mayor should look to New York for leadership inspiration where Uber must guarantee minimum wage for all working time, including waiting time, as a condition of license there."

Adherence to the newest regulations will undoubtedly impact businesses of all kinds.