Free English lessons not enough to compensate underpaid Uber drivers, says union

Drivers' union GMB is not impressed with Uber's new initiatives meant to address the fact that the company's drivers were not paid or treated as employees. Here's why.

Following a landmark victory against Uber, the company has been ordered to treat its drivers as employed workers entitled to receive holiday pay, minimum wage, and breaks.

Uber announced new initiatives to this effect, but GMB, the union for professional drivers, is not impressed.

The initiatives include financial advice, English lessons and updated community guidelines to inform drivers what is expected of them, which, according th GMB’s legal director, Maria Ludkin, are merely cosmetic measures Uber claims addresses drivers’ concerns.  “The measures do not address the concerns of the hundreds of drivers contacting GMB who are focussed on getting basic workers rights. Uber missed a golden opportunity to start complying with the law. They continue to ignore the decision of the courts that drivers are employed workers with rights to receive holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and an entitlement to breaks,” she said.

“Free English lessons and updated community guidelines are not going to address the issue of paying workers below the minimum wage.”

GMB found last year that a member working exclusively for Uber received just £5.03 per hour in August after costs and fees were taken into account, significantly below the national minimum wage of £7.20. Lawyers for the drivers also argued that Uber acts unlawfully by frequently deducting sums from drivers’ pay, often without informing the drivers in advance, including when customers make complaints.

Uber’s new initiatives

Earnings advice sessions

Uber’s new earnings advice sessions is meant to help drivers access financial and time management advice from the company and other drivers to “maximise (their) time – and the money (they) make – on the app.” According to Uber, everyone is welcome to this advice, but the company is particularly targeting drivers who are making less than the hourly average.”

Driver destinations – arrival time

A new feature on the app will match drivers with a passenger going the same way they may be going. “From today we’re also testing a new Arrival Time feature (initially with some drivers in London) so you can select your destination and the time you need to get there. We will then match you with a trip to get you as near as possible at the right time,” according to Uber’s statement to its drivers.


Uber will be rolling out “FlexPay” that will allow drivers to choose when to cash out their fares and not have to wait for end-of-week-payment. From next week, all Uber drivers across the UK will be able to use FlexPay, but it will take up to three days for the money to be credited.

Free skills courses

Uber is now in partnership with FutureLearn to provide drivers access to hundreds of online courses from financial planning or learning a new language. This is for drivers who have done more than 500 trips with Uber and complete a free course this year. Uber will pay for their certificate of achievement.

Help with saving for the future

Uber has partnered with Moneyfarm – an online investment provider – who will offer Uber partners discounted products from ISAs to pensions, along with improved access to financial education.

Partner appeals panel

In cases when serious incidents have been reported and investigated, Uber believes an appeals panel of peers would help.

Uber’s community guidelines
Uber updates its guidelines to outline what they company can and cannot tolerate in terms of driver and customer behaviour.

Free English language course

Uber has partnered with busuu to offer free English courses for drivers.


A muted victory

For Nigel Mackay, Leigh Day employment lawyer, the Employment Tribunal’s decision was ground-breaking in acknowledging the central contribution that Uber’s drivers have made to Uber’s success by confirming that its drivers are not self-employed but that they work for Uber as part of the company’s business.

“Uber drivers often work very long hours just to earn enough to cover their basic living costs. It is the work carried out by these drivers that has allowed Uber to become the multi-billion-dollar global corporation it is,” he said.

GMB remains critical of Uber’s announcements, however.

Praseeda Nair

Kellen Rempel

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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