Angry Uber drivers stage protest outside ride-hailing app headquarters

Protesters are angry about facial recognition software Pic: Nozrul Ahmed

More than 100 Uber drivers marched on Uber’s offices in Aldgate yesterday (October 6) yelling “shame on Uber” in protest against how the ride-hailing apps owners have been treating their workers.

The protesters –brought together by the United Private Hire Drivers group– were calling for change, fairer policies, and job security for their employees.

Some of these changes include a better rate per mile, 15 per cent maximum commission, a termination to Uber’s driver deactivations, and the reinstatement of those who have already been unfairly deactivated, among others.

Nader Awaad, chair of United Private Hire Drivers –a group of campaigners who focus on pay, driver safety and trade union recognition– said at the protest: “I would like us to meet up with Uber and find a resolution to these current problems. Of course, I heard nothing back from Uber (on a request to meet with the union), so what are we supposed to do?

“If they don’t want to talk with us, if they don’t want to meet with us, if they don’t want to discuss with us, we are only left with one option: protest and strike.”

Uber drivers who claimed that they had been unfairly treated by the apps’ facial recognition algorithm were in attendance at the protest. Other Uber drivers who said they had been terminated had family members standing in the picket line with their names and faces on a sign, calling for their reinstatement.

Apa Ali, an Uber driver who said he recently faced short notice deactivation, said at the protest: “I have been deactivated and had my livelihood taken away, this is not something I can take so easily.

“We are standing here for our rights, for the injustice which we have faced for so long, our industry needs to change.”

More than 100 protesters gathered in Aldgate Pic: Nozrul Ahmed

Alex Marshall, President of the IWGB Union – a grassroots member-led union fighting for the rights of some of the most marginalised workers in the UK – said at the protest: “Drivers are still relying on Universal Credit, they’re still having to work ridiculously long hours – not seeing their families – and they are still being terminated. So, when they do get home to their families, they are saying ‘I’ve lost my livelihood for no reason whatsoever.’”

“This is how drivers are being treated by Uber and this is why we are out here shaming them.”

One of the many reasons why the protests took place on Wednesday morning is due to Uber’s facial recognition algorithm which protestors insist is making it less likely for employees of darker skin colour to be able to find jobs as opposed to those with lighter skin tone. Marshall announced at the protest that a case has been launched against Uber in order to hold them accountable for this.

He said: “We’re also here to announce the launch of a huge case where we are able to hold Uber to account for their racist algorithm which is terminating drivers on the basis of the colour of their skin. You are four times more likely to be terminated if you are black or brown, than if you have light skin.

“We will be taking Uber to court over this, and this isn’t just about the racist algorithm, this is about all of the unfair terminations, and this is to put a spotlight on the many drivers’ lives which have been ruined at the click of a button.”

John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, was also present at the rally in Aldgate to offer his support and solidarity towards the cause, assuring the protestors that he will support them both on the streets and in the Houses of Parliament.

“Let me say this to you: we raise this issue in Parliament, and we will continue to raise it. One thing that Uber doesn’t want is further reputational damage, and their reputation is being damaged in the way in which they are treating their workers,” McDonnell said.

“Whether that’s in the picket line, or in Parliament, I will be with you in solidarity.”

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