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Uber signs landmark unionization deal in the UK

More good news for gig workers.

Allie Nawrat

Uber union
Credit: Melanie Kim via Twenty20.

Unleash Your PeopleUber is back in the headlines — but what are the implications for the gig economy?

  • Following on from turning its UK drivers into workers, Uber has now allowed them to unionize.
  • This is the result of a landmark deal with the UK’s GMB union.
  • Will other gig economy companies follow suit?

Uber has had a busy couple of months.

Since a February UK supreme court ruling against the ride-hailing app, Uber has transformed its 70,000 UK drivers into workers – making them eligible for the minimum wage, holiday pay, and a workplace pension – and now it has gone one step further and allowed them to unionize.

In a landmark deal, Uber has agreed to formally recognize the UK’s GMB union, thereby allowing the union to represent UK Uber drivers. This gives Uber drivers collective bargaining powers, as well as providing GMB with a presence at Uber driver support hubs.

Uber has also separately committed to paying its workers National Living Wage, rather than just the minimum wage. The UK’s National Living Wage is £8.91 an hour, whereas the minimum wage is £8.36 per hour.

Uber regional manager for Northern and Eastern Europe Jamie Heywood commented: “Whilst Uber and GMB may not seem like obvious allies, we’ve always agreed that drivers must come first, and today we have struck this important deal to improve workers’ protections.”

“Uber is the only major player in the industry to provide drivers with a National Living Wage guarantee, holiday pay and a pension, and this historic agreement means that Uber will be the first in the industry to ensure that its drivers also have full union representation.”

GMB National office Mick Rix added: “This ground-breaking deal between GMB and Uber could be the first step to a fairer working life for millions of people.

“History has been made.

“This agreement shows gig economy companies don’t have to be a wild west on the untamed frontier of employment rights.

“We now call on all other operators to follow suit.”

Deep dive into the Uber-GMB agreement

As part of the deal, GMB will work with Uber to develop a pension scheme for drivers, according to a piece authored by Heywood and Rix in the Evening Standard.

GMB and Uber will also collaborate on discretionary benefits, including insurance, and ensure that drivers’ safety and wellbeing are prioritized while they are working.

Further to this, the union will represent drivers if they lose access to their Uber account and it will have a meeting with Uber every quarter to discuss any driver concerns or issues.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO, tweeted:

Although GMB is empowered to work with Uber on the principle of a National Living Wage, the Financial Times reported that the union will have no collective bargaining powers over earnings.

Heywood told the Financial Times that Uber will “consult in some areas, collectively bargain in others” – however, he did not provide any further details.

UNLEASH has reached out to Uber for comment, but is yet to receive a reply.

[Read more: Give gig economy staff pension rights now, says UK regulator]

This is relevant because Uber has not complied with the entire Supreme Court’s February ruling which stated drivers must be entitled to a minimum wage the entire time they are logged onto the app. Instead, Uber drivers are only entitled to the National Living wage when they have been assigned to a customer trip.

The App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU), which has been representing drivers in multiple lawsuits against Uber, including the interpretation of the supreme court’s ruling and excessive employee surveillance and robo-firing, welcomed the move.

But ADCU general secretary James Farrar and president Yaseen Aslam noted “there are significant obstacles in the way of ADCU reaching a similar agreement. For us, compliance with legal minimums should be the point of departure for any union agreement with Uber.”

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