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Uber has been ordered to reinstate five British drivers who were struck off from its ride-hailing app by robot technology.
The five drivers, backed by the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) and the campaign group Worker Info Exchange, argued that they had been wrongly accused of fraudulent activity based on mistaken information from Uber’s technology, and that the company had failed to provide the drivers with proper evidence to support the allegations.
In a judgment published on Wednesday, the district court of Amsterdam – where Uber’s European headquarters is located – said the ride-hailing app should reinstate the five British drivers, and one Dutch driver, because the decisions had been “based solely on automated processing, including profiling”. The judgment was made by default, as Uber did not attend the hearing; the company said it had been unaware of the legal action until last week.
The court said Uber should pay a penalty of €5,000 (£4,300) for each day that it had failed to comply with the order to reinstate the drivers, which was made in February, up to a maximum of €50,000, as well as €100,474 in damages.
Abdifatah Abdalla, one of the drivers who worked in London, said he had started driving for Uber in 2014 and had completed more than 7,000 trips for the company before being summarily dismissed in September.
He says he was sent a message informing him that he was being ousted from the Uber app because of “security concerns related to account sharing”. Although he says no evidence was provided, he was told that “the decision is final”, according to messages seen by ITV News.
Another driver, who did not wish to be named, told the Guardian he had been dismissed last year after the app found people had tried to log on to the app using his account from two different parts of London at the same time. He also lost his private hire licence after having worked for Uber for seven years, and has not worked since. “I was very confused. I didn’t share my details. They didn’t say anything [about how they had come to conclusion he had shared his Uber sign-on]. They just close your account.”
As a result of being dismissed by Uber, Abdalla lost his private hire licence from Transport for London (TfL) in October and so was unable to drive for two other apps he worked for – Kapten and Bolt.
TfL said Uber had told it that Abdalla had been removed from the app because two devices were found to have been used to attempt to access his account within minutes of each other, from two different locations which were a significant distance apart. It said this suggested that someone other than Abdalla had been attempting to use his account.
Abdalla says he had no idea how Uber could have found that someone tried to access his account from a separate location and insists he did not share his details. “It has been a horrible situation. I have had to work as a delivery driver, but it is not as well paid and they only call you when they are busy.”
On Monday this week, the City of London magistrates court ordered TfL to reinstate his private hire licence.
James Farrar, the director of Worker Info Exchange, said: “For the Uber drivers robbed of their jobs and livelihoods, this has been a dystopian nightmare come true. They were publicly accused of ‘fraudulent activity’ on the back of poorly governed use of bad technology. This case is a wake-up call for lawmakers about the abuse of surveillance technology now proliferating in the gig economy.” He claimed gig economy groups were “hiding management control in algorithms”.
Uber said it was applying to have the judgment of the Amsterdam court set aside as it had not been aware of the case until last week and that correct procedure had not been followed.
An Uber spokesperson said: “Uber only became aware of this default judgment last week, due to representatives for the ADCU not following proper legal procedure. With no knowledge of the case, the court handed down a default judgment in our absence, which was automatic and not considered.”
A TfL spokesperson said: “The safety of the travelling public is our top priority and where we are notified of cases of driver identity fraud, we take immediate licensing action so that passenger safety is not compromised. We always require the evidence behind an operator’s decision to dismiss a driver and review it along with any other relevant information as part of any decision to revoke a licence. All drivers have the right to appeal a decision to remove a licence through the magistrates court.”