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Uber contracts branded 'gibberish' as MPs condemn working practices in gig economy

MPs condemned contracts offered by Uber as gibberish (Carl Court/Getty Images)

Contracts issued to workers by one of the leading names in the gig economy have been condemned by MPs as “gibberish”.

Drivers with taxi hailing firm Uber are expected to sign an “almost unintelligible” form, a select committee reports.

MPs also lambasted a similar picture of confusion at delivery company Deliveroo, whose own contracts contain an “egregious” clause about workers not being able to challenge the definition of self-employed.

The Work and Pensions Committee heard from representatives of the two companies, plus parcel delivery firm Hermes and online retailer Amazon, and took submissions from dozens of workers in the gig economy.

Frank Field, chair of the Commons committee, is severely critical of certain gig economy companies (Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images)

But the committee was particularly vexed by the employment terms at Uber and Deliveroo.

“Quite frankly the Uber contract is gibberish,” said Frank Field, chair of the committee.

“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 TfL’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,” he said.

“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.”

Read more: How companies are exploiting ‘sham’ self-employment to cut their tax bill

Read more: Uber loses court battle which could cost it London drivers

Read more: How bankers and accountants are the real drivers behind Britain’s gig economy

The gig economy is predicted to be worth £2bn to the UK economy by 2020 – it already employs some five million people but is estimated to cost the Treasury £4bn a year through lost taxes and National Insurance.

The committee received a raft of submissions from workers. One Hermes worker told MPs: “We as drivers are not self-employed if we are given times to work, provided with equipment that we don’t actually own and are constantly monitored in our own vehicles.

“We do not get sick pay … we do not get granted holidays and if we decide to take one, we may not get our rounds back and that’ll be us out of work.”

[graphiq id=”9a5mNK87Z9X” title=”Locations with Uber Service in Europe” width=”600″ height=”464″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/9a5mNK87Z9X” link=”https://www.graphiq.com” link_text=”Visualization by Graphiq” ]

The Amazon Flex contract for couriers, published by the MPs, contains clauses stating: “Nothing in this agreement will create any worker or employment relationship between you and Amazon. As an independent contractor, you will not be considered as having the status of an employee of Amazon for any purpose, including contractual rights.

“You will not make any representation that you have any authority to bind Amazon as an employee, worker agent, partner, or otherwise.”

An Amazon spokesman said Flex offered a “great opportunity” for many people who had other work to top up their income.

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.”

Deliveroo has a way of talking to its riders… (Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

A Deliveroo spokesman said: “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.”

Uber has written to Mr Field admitting: “We recognise it would be better for both parties if [the contract] was written in plainer, simpler English. This document is, therefore, currently being revised.”

Matthew Taylor, a one-time adviser to former PM Tony Blair, has been commissioned by the government to conduct a review of the gig economy and how employment laws may have to be changed. He is due to report back in the summer.

Deliveroo Dos and Don’ts:

A crib sheet has been leaked of Deliveroo’s efforts to control its message to workers. It says:

  • Riders are always “riders” and never “drivers” or “employees” or “workers” or “staff”.
  • Riders have “supplier agreements” not “employment contracts” and wear “kit” or “branded clothing” not “uniform”.
  • Riders are not “employed by Deliveroo to complete deliveries”, they “engage with Deliveroo as independent suppliers to perform services”.
  • Deliveroo never “schedule shifts”, instead “riders indicate their availability”.
  • Riders are not subjected to “performance reviews” rather “Service Delivery Standards Assessment”.