Belfast Telegraph

Uber workers' contract is unintelligible and gibberish, says MP Frank Field

The only flexibility in the so-called gig economy is enjoyed by employers rather than workers such as delivery drivers, according to the chairman of a group of MPs inquiring into the sector.

Frank Field, who chairs the Work and Pensions Committee, described the contract of taxi hailing firm Uber as "unintelligible".

The committee published a number of contracts it has received from firms during its inquiry, saying the intention of some clauses it examined appeared to be to put people off challenging their status, including going to court.

There have been a number of high profile cases in recent months involving people classed as self employed, claiming they were actually workers so entitled to rights such as holiday and sick pay.

The MPs published a number of "key points" from the contracts, including:

:: Uber's contract is "unintelligible" - which the company was said to acknowledge.

:: Deliveroo's contract explicitly requires its couriers to agree that they are not workers, and to agree not to challenge their self-employed status in court.

The company said in oral evidence in February that this clause would "disappear", but a letter to the committee now commits to removing it "within the coming weeks".

:: Section 13 of Uber's contract contains a clause on not disputing self-employed status, similar to Deliveroo's.

:: Section 2 of Amazon's contract performs a similar function to section 13 of Uber's contract.

Mr Field said: "Quite frankly the Uber contract is gibberish. They are well aware that many, if not most, of their drivers speak English as a second language - they recently lost a court case trying to escape Transport for London's new English testing rules for private hire drivers - yet their contract is almost unintelligible.

"And it, like Deliveroo's, contains this egregious clause about not challenging the official designation of "self-employed", when the way they work looks in most ways an awful lot like being employed. These companies parade the "flexibility" their model offers to drivers but it seems the only real flexibility is enjoyed by the companies themselves. It does seem a marvellous business model if you can get away with it.

"My worry is that as a result these companies contribute little to the public purse or our social safety net. They are not paying sick leave, National Living Wage, or contributing to pensions. Yet it seems likely that their employment practices will lead more people to need taxpayers to pick up these costs."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: " Many people working in the gig economy are unaware of their rights at work and are afraid of being victimised if they speak out. Companies are deliberately exploiting this fear to prevent scrutiny of their employment practices.

"The Government urgently needs to reform employment law, so that employers who use these appalling clauses are fined."

Jason Moyer-Lee of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, said: "The contract clauses these companies use is further evidence that they are worried of being exposed for the sham operations they are running."

An Uber spokesman said: "Almost all taxi and private hire drivers in the UK are self-employed. We've always been clear to drivers who use Uber that they are self-employed and free to choose if, when and where they drive, with no shifts, minimum hours or uniforms.

"There is nothing in our terms to stop anybody challenging this. In fact a small group of drivers recently took us to an employment tribunal claiming they're not self-employed.

"We recognise our terms could be written in plainer English and we started the process of revising them some time ago."

A Deliveroo spokesman said: "As a British business, we're proud to offer well-paid, flexible work to 15,000 riders across the UK and we're committed to ensuring that as the company continues to grow, riders continue to benefit from that growth.

"As outlined to the select committee, we are always revising our supplier agreement to ensure it reflects how we work with riders in practice. That is why we are removing the clause discussed, which has never been enforced, in the coming weeks."

Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, said: "Workers are being lied to and obliged to sign their rights away by corporations using every trick in the book.

"All the forced self-employment contracts being brought to us by members are not just nonsense, they are unlawful."