For weeks, the only topic of discussion on a forum for London’s Uber drivers has been money. Specifically, who has been offered compensation money from Uber so far, and how much they’re getting.
Since the middle of May, when Uber started making back pay compensation offers to its drivers, the online community has been buzzing with speculation about the maths behind the compensation calculations. Drivers are also wondering when they will be paid and if they should accept the deals on the table or not.
Those that worked for Uber for years quickly realised that there wouldn’t be a windfall of money. The first batch of offers showed that Uber was only prepared to back-date claims to cover work during 2019 and 2020. While this complies with employment regulation established in 2015, to protect UK businesses from “the potentially damaging impact of large backdated claims”, it is proving controversial. In practice this means that Uber won’t get any money for any other years worked, and that the people who managed to keep up their fare levels during the pandemic are going to receive much more than those who couldn’t.
One Uber driver, who goes by Nino555 online, says they received £5,100 in back pay that was backdated two years. “I was with them 4.5 years. If only the back date was 4 years I’d be offered £10k. Slightly pissed but I’m happy with the offer,” they wrote. Another Uber driver, who goes by the name NeroHertz online, says they received £4,000 in backdated pay. “They’ve only sent me a number as an offer, not the full details of how it was worked out,” they wrote.
Soon, the forum was littered with details of other offers: £3,500 for a driver who says they didn’t work during the first lockdown because nobody was using Uber; £3,490 for a driver who worked for Uber for three and a half years and made around 5,500 trips; £2,657 for a driver who worked for the platform since 2015 but hasn’t driven since last year’s lockdown; £1,800 for a driver who started working for Uber in March of last year.
But, as the numbers poured in, one crucial detail was lacking: how had Uber done the maths? One driver was offered and accepted £600 compensation, says Steve Garelick, a regional organiser at the GMB union. “There is the question of what is the right amount, and I think we need to drill more into that,” Garelick says.
No one, from the Uber drivers, to the lawyers acting in the group legal action against Uber, to the unions representing workers, could tell how the ride hailing company had arrived at the figures it was putting on the table and whether they were fair. And that’s when people started saying they’d been short changed.
WIRED understands that drivers are being offered a deal based on 12.07 per cent of their net earnings over the last two years prior to March 15, 2021 to calculate their holiday. Each use of the app and a driver’s history are also factored into the offer. This calculation does not include back pay for minimum wage, pension contributions or sick pay, all of which are entitlements for current drivers. It doesn’t factor in the costs of having a vehicle, private hire vehicle licence, nor the cost of petrol. And it doesn’t apply to any work that drivers may have completed as Uber Eats couriers.
According to screenshots of the Uber compensation website shared by drivers, to reach the holiday compensation figures, Uber calculated the average net earnings from all drivers, minus service charges and plus the central London charges. It treated net earnings as “having been topped up” to national minimum wage before deducting expenses. However, no one outside of Uber has access to the data required to verify those calculations themselves.
“We’re calling on HMRC to properly enforce the Supreme Court ruling because there is already even more cause for concern that Uber can’t be trusted to do this fairly,” says Alex Marshall, president of the IWGB union, which represents couriers and drivers in the UK. “We have received reports from members that Uber is even counting sick leave and government ordered self-isolation periods during the pandemic as a break in employment, which would mean if you’ve worked as an Uber driver for five years but had to take time off in 2020, you will only be compensated your rightful earnings for the past year.”