Monday, 31 October 2016

That Uber Employment Judgement

"Uber loses right to classify UK drivers as self-employed"

"Uber drivers win fight over over job rights"

One is the Guardian, home of all things Good and Decent. The other is that filthy rag of the capitalists, The Financial Times.

Which is which?

Uh-huh. That’s right. The one talking about a multi-billion dollar corporation losing its rights is….. The Guardian! It’s the FT that’s celebrating the workers’ victory.

The FT’s line isn’t as surprising as you might think. The FT is for investors and bankers, not faceless CEOs and managers. Uber is owned by its owners and some tech investors. These people might read the FT, but they aren’t its audience. The FT’s audience doesn’t actually like all these tech companies much: it prefers mining companies, oil companies, retailers, banks, car-makers and other such business that have actual assets, and are quoted on a proper stock exchange. Uber isn’t a quoted company, and the FT is about quoted companies. That’s what its readers can buy shares in. Private companies get mentioned for the sake of completeness and if they have plenty of outstanding bond issues. Uber is, as far as the FT is concerned, no different from the village garage. It’s just larger, incredibly loss-making, and very bad at making friends. The FT’s readers don’t consider platform operators like Uber and Air B’n B as real companies, and the sooner they go away, the better. So now you know why the FT was crowing about the workers’ victory.

But The Guardian? Oh woe is us. The Guardian thinks that Uber has a “right” to classify workers to its convenience. It’s hard to know if this is lazy writing, legal ignorance or a nasty ideology showing through. I’ll go for all three. Workers are classified as full-time, part-time or self-employed by the law, not by their employers. No corporation has any rights: only human beings have rights.

The Guardian is torn. Its urban elite staff benefit from the low prices and service of gig economy providers. They may even have friends whose children need to work these jobs because they cannot find a proper job. They may also know people who really do work these jobs to provide enough of an income to support their careers in the arts or music. It likes the idea that Uber and others are “disrupting” the present bunch of capitalists. The enemy of my enemy, after all. It’s been a long time since the Guardian was on the side of the workers.

Both papers quoted the same comments by the Tribunal judges, the lawyers and the unions. The real champions of the people here are Judge Anthony Snelson and his two colleagues on the Tribunal, who dismiss Uber’s claims with high elegance: “The notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our minds faintly ridiculous. Drivers do not and cannot negotiate with passengers … They are offered and accept trips strictly on Uber’s terms.” Uber “merited scepticism” for the "fictions, twisted language and even brand new terminology” in its documentation. Go judges!

What neither paper has noticed is that nearly all radio cab firms work on this basis and have done for a long time. And how will this affect courier companies like DPD, who are no less keen to pass on all the costs to their owner-drivers.

I’m with the FT: real businesses own assets.

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