Uber's employment practices to be examined by working group, minister says

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Uber faces having its employment practices examined by a new Government working group, a transport minister has said, amidst concerns over abuse of things like the minimum wage.

John Hayes announced the creation of the group with an independent chairman after a debate led by Frank Field, the former chairman of the Work and Pensions select committee.

Labour MP Mr Field had called for councils to demand minimum standards from the likes of Uber before granting them taxi licences, with Mr Hayes also pledging to review the guidance given to local authorities to enforce these standards.

Speaking after the debate in Westminster Hall, Mr Field called the move by the minister "a big, big breakthrough" on tackling issues in the so-called "gig economy".

Mr Hayes said: "I'm going to set up a working party in my department with an independent chairman to look at the specific things he has raised as a result of this debate.

"I will consider, in due course, the terms and conditions of that working party, its membership, and how it might have an effect on future policy.

"Furthermore, as he requested, I will look at the guidance that is issued to local authorities who may be unaware of the extent of their powers, and certainly may be unaware of their ability to use them.

"He's right to say there are problems with different local authorities interpreting those powers in different ways, and it seems to be very important that we should give clarity about that through the advice that we offer to local authorities."

Mr Hayes said it was not good enough to wait for the Taylor review, an overarching review of workers' rights in the modern economy, before this issue was tackled, as he pledged to meet Mr Field and drivers' representatives.

Mr Hayes added: "Let us have an adult, grown-up discussion about this.

"Let us expose what's wrong and celebrate what's right, for there will be no veil, no mask and nowhere to hide for people who don't do the right thing."

Mr Field said that while Uber had made a positive contribution to the market and many workers it was also a "destructive force for many people's living standards", accusing it of offering a "bogus" self-employment contract.

He added: "Uber and similar companies are registering we know in London, in Leeds, in Liverpool and in Glasgow, and getting licences, as they have to, from the transport executive of those areas.

"Is it because the legislation is unsure, difficult to interpret, that these transport executives are not in fact saying these are the minimum conditions you the company must meet if you wish us to grant you a licence to operate in our area?

"I would like to hear the minister's view on this. I think the position is quite clear, it just takes a few - or at least one - transport authority to say this is the interpretation."

The Labour MP said wages were pushed down in the "gig economy" of private hire vehicles through low fares, high rates of commission, the cost of renting the right vehicles and refuelling and maintenance.

"Those are the downward forces in the economy which make it very difficult for people to make a decent living, and indeed as I'm going to argue to make a living to which they've covered by the statutory minimum wage," said Mr Field.

"We know in fact that it fails by the way Uber and other companies get round how people earn, how they earn and the hours they undertake on this basis of employment."

Mr Field said he wanted the definition of hours worked to be satisfactory to workers "rather than Uber" in order to ensure the minimum wage is applied on an hourly basis.

Speaking afterwards, he said: "This is a big, big breakthrough.

"The Government has acted on the evidence I submitted on the poverty pay and shoddy treatment meted out to some workers at the bottom of the gig economy, both by commissioning the Taylor review and now by inquiring specifically around the private hire industry.

"Watch this space."