Uber Drivers Strike In Melbourne To Protest Low Pay, Long Hours And Politics

Yesterday, some Uber drivers in Melbourne -- part of the RideShare Drivers United group -- didn't switch on their Uber apps to take fares from the early morning until afternoon. While it's not immediately clear how effective the protest was, it highlights one of the potential flaws in Uber's plan to conquer the world with ride-sharing: if drivers aren't happy, they just won't turn up.

Whether or not the strike significantly dented the number of Uber-affiliated cars on Melbourne roads, the strike got nationwide media attention through TV news and both Victoria's major newspapers -- not a good look for an app that already has a fractious relationship with Victoria.

RSDU says that drivers' take-home pay has been cut by as much as 30 per cent in some cities, and that Melbourne Uber contractors -- who are classified as independent sub-contractors, paying their own GST and responsible for maintenance on the vehicles that they own and operate -- should be at least brought in line with Sydney rates. The group is asking for a $9 minimum fare on trips, as well as a base fare of $2.50 and per-kilometre and per-minute fares of $1.45 and $0.45 respectively; the group's manifesto says that "drivers are reporting they’re making as little as $11.00 per hour after expenses, before income tax or superannuation -- well below the minimum wage."

Interestingly, the RSDU is asking that Uber place a limit on the maximum number of hours that drivers work per day, capping it at 12 hours. According to the group, "there have been numerous reports about drivers dossing off at the wheel after driving 14+ hour shifts, just to make ends meet and take home minimum pay" -- and they're claiming that Uber holds responsibility to ensure its workers are not fatiguing themselves. The RSDU: "At current base rates, many drivers are now finding themselves having to drive much longer shifts, with no daily limits just so they can make ends meet. Drivers working long 12-16 hour shifts are fast becoming the norm."

Uber's complicated and legally grey relationship with state and federal government is also in the spotlight. "Uber refuses to pay its GST obligations in Australia", says the RSDU, and the contracting relationship means that Uber drivers pay GST from the first dollar they earn -- rather than after the $75,000 threshold of a regular small business -- as well as paying what the RideShare Drivers United group says is Uber's own share of GST, on the 20 or 25 per cent commission on fares that Uber takes out of the full fare before drivers' own cut. In February, Uber lost a Federal Court battle with the ATO over its GST responsibilities.

"We drivers are the face of Uber. Without us, there is no Uber. Being classified as sub-contractors gives us every right to have a say over fare pricing, GST allocation and customer service. We can no longer be ignored, threatened with deactivation and silenced. We can no longer be patient, while our working conditions and pay continue to deteriorate in a fast race to the bottom."