Hove MP grills Uber over 40,000 jobs fear ‘hypocrisy’

Posted On 11 Oct 2017 at 2:23 pm

Hove MP Peter Kyle has accused Uber of hypocrisy for accusing TfL of putting 40,000 drivers out of work while also denying it employs anyone at all – and working towards replacing human drivers with self-driving cars.

The exchange came during a parliamentary committee yesterday, when Mr Kyle and other MPs grilled representatives of employers in the so-called gig economy, including Deliveroo, Hermes and Uber.

He asked Andrew Byrne, head of Uber’s public policy, about the company’s “aggressive” response to Transport for London’s decision not to renew the taxi hailing app’s operating licence in Brighton.

Mr Kyle said: “Your reaction was that TfL is putting 40,000 people out of business You are going to court denying any responsibility for those people in the first place. So the word on everyone’s lips was hypocrite wasn’t it?”

Mr Byrne responded: “I think that we are very conscious of the fact that 40,000 people do use and earn money through Uber in London, and that fact weighs very heavily in our response, but hopefully we can see a path forwards now with TfL where we can address their concerns and continue to operate.”

Mr Kyle then asked about Uber’s plans to automate its fleet – a question he had to repeat three times, finally asking: “Will you be, as a business, as upset with yourselves for putting people out of business, bearing in mind that is your stated objective, as you are with TfL for doing it now now?”

Mr Byrne replied: “There’s no suggestion that how we plan move forward is total replacement of individuals with automation. We do think that a fleet with lots of human drivers will continue to be the norm for 10, 20 years and that will continue to be the case in the UK … “e absolutely recognise that we have responsibility to people who use the app when that time comes.”

The business, energy and industrial strategy committee (BEIS) was questioning the industry representatives following the Taylor review into modern working practices, including those of the ‘gig economy’ and its impact on workers’ rights, which was published in July.

The report, carried out by Royal Society of the Arts chief executive Matthew Taylor included recommendations such as creating a new classification for workers on tech platforms — which it called “dependent contractors” — to separate them from the “legitimately self-employed”.

Mr Byrne also told the committee that its appeal against an employment tribunal ruling that its drivers are employers is expected before Christmas. He added that if the company is required to pay national insurance for drivers using the app, it would cost the company tens of millions of pounds.

And he said that Uber is working on a way to cap the number of hours a driver can work to reduce the risk of fatigue – but admitted that there is currently nothing stopping drivers working for excessive numbers of hours a day.

Uber’s operating licence for Brighton and Hove is due to run out on November 4. As of last week, the city council had not received an application to renew it from Uber – but the company said it intended on reapplying.

Mr Kyle has previously hit the headlines for his interrogation of Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley over “unbelievable” working practices at its Shirebrook depot.

Yesterday’s full exchange between Mr Kyle and Mr Byrne:

Peter Kyle: Do you regret the aggressive nature of your response to the TfL decision?

Andrew Byrne: Um, I think, er, I think if you saw the open letter from our CEO that was published in the Standard I think the business absolutely accepts that in lots of places it’s had the wrong attitude and needs to change, and, um …

PK: Why were you so belligerent to start with?

AB: I think, er, I think there’s a very high strength of feeling from people within the business and things like that, but I think we have got to a place where we accept that we need to do more to address TfL’s concerns.

PK: Your reaction was that TfL is putting 40,000 people out of business. You are going to court denying any responsibility for those people in the first place. So the word on everyone’s lips was hypocrite wasn’t it?

AB: I don’t know, I think that we are very conscious of the fact that 40,000 people do use and earn money through Uber in London, and that fact weighs very heavily in our response. But hopefully we can see a path forwards now with TfL where we can address their concerns and continue to operate.

PK: Your business plan is very well known around the globe and it ultimately relies on automation. So soon, as soon as you possibly can, the people backing your company want to get rid of all the drivers anyway and replace them with automated vehicles. Will you be crying then?

AB: I think, you know, there is a serious obligation on a company like ours to really think about the safety benefits that come with autonomous vehicles. Two million people die every year …

PK: I’m not talking about safety, I’m talking about putting people out of business.

AB: That tends to be how we think about it. Two million people die every year in road traffic accidents and if there is something that technology can do to reduce that number, then again …

PK: I’ve asked you about the workers, about the people driving, and you respond with road safety.

AB: That’s a very large part of …

PD: So when TfL withdrew your licence, you responded with, ‘You are putting 40,000 people out of business’. When I ask you about putting those same people out of business, you evade the answer. So will you be, as a business, as upset with yourselves for putting people out of business, bearing in mind that is your stated objective, as you are with TfL for doing it now?

AB: There’s no suggestion that how we plan to move forward is total replacement of individuals with automation. We do think that a fleet with lots of human drivers will continue to be the norm for 10, 20 years and that will continue to be the case in the UK. Our investment into the research into automation is something that we do as a business, and we’re proud of the fact it might have big safety implications. But we absolutely recognise that we have responsibility to people who use the app when that time comes, but that time is not coming for a very significant amount of time.

  1. Gerald Wiley Reply

    But Peter should realise that Uber drivers can provide taxi services just as well as hackney cabs and that self-driving technology could also lead to motorists in general being able to get rid of their cars in an environmentally friendly way.

    Of course, if Peter wants to follow Jeremy’s goal of taxing companies that use technology in order to protect obsolete jobs then this will lead to the UK being non-competitive in the world markets.

    So much for socialism / Marxism….

  2. Valerie Paynter Reply

    Worth remembering that the bizarre accident outside the Natural History Museum last weekend involved an UBER driver.

  3. bradly Reply

    PK’s sarcasm plumbs more depths whilst missing the point of a parliamentary committee = his “questions” advances the Uber issue by not one iota.

  4. A L Brighton Reply

    Well done Peter Kyle for showing up the hypocrisy of Uber. One the one hand they don’t want any responsibility for their drivers while having a business plan to eventually put them out of work, at the same time as suggesting they care for their workforce.

    It’s good to have strong MPs like Kyle on committees.

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