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Why Uber drivers are striking across Britain and the USA

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter

Unions say many Uber drivers in the UK are staying at home today as part of an international strike over their treatment by the firm.

Organisers are hoping to up the pressure on Uber ahead of its long-awaited initial public offering (IPO) on Friday, highlighting the gap between investors’ likely rewards and drivers’ pay.

They urged passengers to respect a “digital picket line” by avoiding the app between 7am and 4pm in the UK, with drivers in London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Glasgow known to be involved in the action.

Many US drivers were expected to log off in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and other major cities later.

How big is the strike?

It is not known how many drivers have taken part in the action so far, with Uber suggesting rain rather than the strike could be behind higher London fares this morning.

But the United Private Hire Drivers Branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) said it expected hundreds to take part across the UK, with a protest planned outside Uber’s London HQ this afternoon.

One Uber driver in Birmingham, who did not wish to be named, told Yahoo Finance UK he had noticed significantly fewer fellow drivers on the roads of Britain’s second largest city on Wednesday. He claimed to have seen driver numbers 40% lower than usual.

“If it works, it’ll be good for drivers,” he said, adding that he hoped the action would improve minimum fares.

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But the Birmingham driver said the first he knew of the strike was when he tuned into the radio while working this morning. He would not get involved in case he got “in trouble,” having only joined Uber recently after waiting months to be taken on by the firm.

Sonam Lama, another driver in New York, told the BBC: "I'm striking for my kid's future. I have a five-year-old son, and I drive for Uber to support him."

The hashtag #UberShutdown was also being widely used by people who normally use the app and others supporting the co-ordinated action today, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeting his support.

Why are drivers on strike?

Much of the row boils down to pay, with those striking pushing for higher rates per mile. Reuters reports that Uber has reduced its rates in some markets, in a move that angered many drivers.

"It is the drivers who have created this extraordinary wealth but they continue to be denied even the most basic workplace rights," said James Farrar, chair of the IWGB private hire branch in the UK.

But the firm is under pressure to improve profitability, as it prepares for what could be the biggest stock market debut of the year so far.

The hiring of Dara Khosrowshahi as Uber’s new chief executive was seen by some as the start of a new chapter for the firm.

He has pledged to improve conditions for drivers, with many receiving bonuses and benefiting from tips from riders.

The company told Reuters: "Whether it's being able to track your earnings or stronger insurance protections, we'll continue working to improve the experience for and with drivers.”

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