17 Jan 2019

Uber drivers fear sudden termination from false passenger complaints

12:32 pm on 17 January 2019

An Uber driver fears his income could be cut off because of false complaints from passengers but the ride-sharing company say its deactivation policy is fair.

Uber requires its drivers to hold a Passenger endorsement license from the NZTA.

Uber requires its drivers to hold a Passenger endorsement license from the NZTA. Photo: AFP

Aaron, who to protect his privacy did not want his last name published, earns half his income as an Uber driver in Wellington.

However, he has been shut out of his account twice since he first started driving in May, for claims that were eventually proven false.

He was deactivated his second day on the job after a user complained that he used inappropriate language.

"I had the tape in the car and I reviewed the tape and the footage and of course, nothing was said. So when I actually told a manager that I'm involving the police, at that point they reversed their decision."

The second time, he was permanently deactivated on the spot for leaving magnetic signs on his car.

He had his account reinstated after his manager realised that the signs weren't for a taxi company, which would have been against Uber policy.

Aaron said the allegations have left him fearful that at any moment he could lose his job.

"Every time I log on on a Monday, I wonder 'have I been deactivated this weekend?'. I live in fear, day-by-day that Uber will actually take away my employment."

Uber does not give drivers enough of a chance to prove their innocence, he said.

"If you get any customer making an accusation, a complaint, whether it be false or true, you don't have a leg to stand on - you have very little in the way of right of reply.

"Simply put, the whole Uber concept is passenger-orientated and the drivers have to put up and shut up."

In a post on the Rideshare Drivers Network NZ website, another driver said they had their driving account deleted after a passenger laid a complaint that they were drinking on the job.

The driver claimed that the previous passenger had left alcohol in the car.

The Uber community guidelines say a driver will be deactivated if they are found driving under the influence of alcohol.

Uber's New Zealand spokesperson Nicky Preston said that the company's deactivation policy is fair.

"Uber has a responsibility to help keep people safe and we take every incident report seriously."


Uber's headquarters in Auckland. Photo: RNZ

"In many circumstances, driver partners will receive notifications of first-time breaches and are informed they may lose access to the Uber app if the behaviour continues."

"If driver-partners believe they have been unfairly deactivated, they can reach out to our 24/7 safety and support team via the Help section of the Uber app."

Ms Preston said the complaints are sorted by an algorithm before being checked over and investigated by a support team, and serious allegations such as sexual assault would result in instant deactivation.

Uber's standard driver contract states any deactivation decision is final.

Employment lawyer Peter Cullen said drivers, as independent contractors, could not do much to legally contest a decision.

"When you look at the agreement they have, it's more like a business agreement - it certainly doesn't read as an employment one.

"The only choice they have is if the agreement is terminated outside of the provisions of their business contract, then they can sue for breach of contract and they could get a payment for humiliation and distress as well."

Mr Cullen said an independent contractor working for a courier company in 1994 had sued for breach of contract after he wasn't given proper notice, and was awarded $10,000 for mental distress and just under $20,000 for financial loss.