If you're a subscriber to Uber in Australia, you received a curious email yesterday. "Uber creating 20,000 new jobs in Australia in 2015" was the subject, and the crux of the missive was to tell subscribers that despite what they may have heard from incumbent operators, Uber is doing good things for the economy. So what are these 20,000 new jobs Uber wants to create in Australia, and can it pull it off? The devil, as always, is in the detail.
Here's a quick excerpt from the email:
Yesterday, our Senior Vice President, David Plouffe, announced that Uber is committed to creating 20,000 new jobs in Australia in 2015. We are setting ourselves a challenge which we believe we can achieve through partnership with governments and organisations who share our vision of opening up economic opportunity in every city.
Each of these new jobs will be filled by people who have passed rigorous criminal and driving history background checks, who are fully insured, and who are seeking to earn a flexible income to support their families. They are like Debra, a single mother training to be a nurse in Queensland. Or Patrick, who is supporting his daughter's tennis career (and coaching her) through driving uberX in Sydney. Or Adam who is saving to buy a house for his young family in Melbourne.
These drivers help power their city's economy, keep our roads safer and reduce congestion.
So what sort of jobs will Uber be offering to Aussie jobseekers when it has less than 50 open positions advertised around the country on its jobs site right now?
The 20,000 jobs they're talking about are UberX driver roles. UberX is the service that allows ordinary citizens to use their cars to pick up people who hail using the Uber app. The barrier to entry is low: the citizens looking to work for as UberX drivers don't apply through a traditional job service like Seek, they simply open the Uber website and put their hand up to be a driver.
Riding with UberX as a customer is 15 per cent cheaper than an ordinary cab and has drawn the ire of old-world cab drivers in Australia's capital cities.
These old-world cab drivers pay a small fortune in upkeep for registration, radios and taxi plates every year: something which is being rapidly devalued by the entry of UberX into the local market. The news that 20,000 more UberX drivers are planned is likely to send a chill down their collective spines.
Included in the email were links to the stories of real drivers currently operating UberX vehicles arounds Australia.
Uber is at pains to point out that these ordinary UberX drivers have had background and car safety checks to ensure they're ok to carry ordinary passengers like you and me. Despite its best efforts however, it seems a month won't go by without a report of an Uber driver somewhere in the world behaving badly. We've talked about a few of those before.
So with the public awareness campaign underway and the fight of its life against taxicab incumbents in full swing, Uber is trying to spin out a new story where it has no opposition: the creation of new jobs.
If anyone — say the taxi industry — were to argue with the creation of new jobs in an economy that desperately needs them, they would be branded as anti-progress and against the interests of Australia and her ongoing prosperity. It's the perfect platform in which to wage a war for hearts and minds.
Uber has recently been making a lot of noise to try and sell its app-based, ride-sharing vision of the future to government leaders, and it seems to have landed a big fish in the form of Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey.
Hockey reportedly told colleagues that "the jobs are in Uber", extolling the benefits of smart economy apps like Uber, Spotify and Netflix.
Hockey is a man who has been selling the dream of Coalition-fuelled job creation for years now, so the news that Uber is pumping smarter jobs into the economy will be welcome.
Whether or not the jobs Hockey is talking about will belong to Uber as a traditional employer remains to be seen, however, with the company currently coming under fire in the US for employing drivers as independent contractors rather than traditional employees.
Uber is staring down the barrel of a lawsuit brought against it by drivers who are seeking employee benefits from the companies they drive for. Companies like Uber in the US aren't required to award contractors with benefits like expenses, maintenance or other out-of-pocket costs.
Needless to say, if Uber is forced to treat the thousands of drivers it has as employees and pay them benefits, the earning growth of the companies will shrink due to all the new overheads.
So Uber may be seeking to create jobs in the Australian economy in the same way as it does in the US, but they aren't jobs in the traditional sense. They're so-called "new economy jobs" where benefits include flexible working hours, new opportunities in new industries and greater freedom through the use of technology.
New economy jobs are gold for a nation looking for smarter jobs at the end of an old-fashioned resources boom, which may be why the Treasurer has taken the opportunity to talk them up to his analogue counterparts and in turn, the nation.
Either way: Uber is in Australia fighting the 800-pound CabCharge gorilla, and they want you to help.