- The Guardian
- Issue #1967
Last year, Amita Gupta, a food delivery driver with Uber, took the company to the Federal Court for being “sacked after she was 10 minutes late with a food delivery,” according to the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU).
In mounting their defence, Uber’s lawyer attempted to highlight how there was “no relationship of employment” between the two parties. Instead, Uber claimed there was a “quadrilateral relationship” between four parties: Uber Eats, the restaurant, the delivery driver, and the customer.
In doing so, Uber wanted to restrict the case merely to the arguments, stressing that the court did not need to make a “positive finding as to what that relationship was or is.” Needless to say, the judges presiding over the case were not impressed with Justice Richard White responding: “We actually operate in the real world here […]. This is not a debating club. We’ve not just got a theoretic construct to ask ourselves about.”
In December, Uber reached an out-of-court settlement with Gupta. However, the settlement was made confidential – until now. Earlier this month, during a Senate inquiry on job security, the TWU used its parliamentary privilege to reveal the details of the confidential settlement. The amount? $400,000. According to the Financial Review, “the settlement, [was] some twenty-six times more than what Ms Gupta was likely to receive under the law.”
“The most telling feature of this settlement was the extent of the settlement,” TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said to the inquiry, further stating that, “I think it’s very clear that UberEats wanted to ensure that there were no risks that its exploitative system would be overturned by the full court and they were willing to pay an incredible amount of money, a life-changing amount of money, to the Guptas to make sure that moment in time did not occur.”
Kaine is right. The settlement’s size indicates how far Uber is willing to go to not establish a precedent and, in turn, have to pay even the legal liveable wage to workers. In order to put the settlement in perspective, Kaine stated that under unfair dismissal laws, Gupta would have likely received a maximum of $15,000 compensation for six months’ work.
It is no secret that work in the gig economy is dangerous. In its document, Working together to improve Food Delivery Rider safety the NSW government reported that in 2019 and 2020 five deaths and fifty injuries occurred.
This toll is rising. Delivery drivers are overworked and underpaid. Even more, is that most of these workers are migrants or visa workers who are attempting to make money for their families here and overseas. They also are often unaware of their rights. As a result, they make the perfect victim for these companies to exploit. But this exploitation needs to end. We need laws and regulations that not only define the relationship between these companies and workers as that of an employer and employee, resulting in a liveable wage, but we need better working conditions too.