Uber is to start offering its minicab drivers sickness cover in exchange for a £2 per week fee, in its latest bid to head off criticism over working conditions for its 40,000 drivers in the UK,The Guardian reports.
The move is likely to cost the San Francisco-based company several million pounds a year. It comes ahead of the government’s Taylor review of modern working practices, which is likely to recommend that self-employed gig economy workers should be granted greater employment protections and benefits, including sickness cover.
Under the new scheme, Uber drivers in 25 British towns and cities who have undertaken more than 500 trips will be eligible for payments of up to £2,000 if they are unable to drive through sickness or injury for two weeks or longer.
They will also be covered for £2,000 in the event they are called for jury service and £300 per week if an accident takes place during a trip or while logged into the app. To access the cover they will have to pay a £2 weekly premium, which Uber said it was subsidising.
Uber was last year hit by an employment tribunal ruling that its drivers were wrongly classified as self-employed and should be classed as employed workers, a status that would grant them automatic rights to sick pay, holiday pay and a guarantee of the national minimum wage.
It has tried to play down the impact of the ruling, although it is widely considered to be a fundamental threat to Uber’s current business model in the UK. The company will challenge the ruling in the courts this autumn.
Uber claims its drivers earn on average £15 an hour after the company has taken its 20% commission, but that does not account for drivers’ expenses including car hire, insurance and petrol, which amount to thousands every year. Many Uber drivers claim they are in effect earning less than the national minimum wage, which is currently £7.50 an hour for people aged 25 and over.
“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,” the judges said. “Drivers do not and cannot negotiate with passengers … They are offered and accept trips strictly on Uber’s terms.”
Uber’s lead barrister, Dinah Rose QC, will argue that the tribunal made “inconsistent and perverse findings” and “erred in law”, according to Uber’s notice of appeal.
Jo Bertram, regional general manager of Uber in the UK, said the move was a response to drivers telling the company they want more security if something unexpected happens. “We want Uber to be the best possible experience so we’ll carry on listening to drivers about further improvements we can make to our app.”
She said most Uber drivers “love the freedom of being their own boss and choosing if, when and where they drive”. The cover is being provided by IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed.