Australian study finds drivers paid below applicable minimum wage, concludes “exploitation”

Jim Stanford of the Centre for Future Work (Australia) analyzed payments to UberX drivers in six Australian cities. He found that drivers earn less than would be required under the applicable Australian wage requirements. After deducting Uber’s fees, applicable taxes, and the cost of vehicle and maintenance, the study found driver pay of A$14.62 per hour, well below the national statutory minimum wage (A$18.29) and less than half the weighted-average minimum wage including casual loading and penalty rates for evening and weekend work that would apply to similar waged employees in Australia (Modern Award #MA00063 for Passenger Vehicle Transportation). The study finds that this underpayment adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars per year in Australia alone.

The study notes that Uber’s prices are well below taxis, and asks how Uber gets the cost advantage that allows it to offer notably lower prices. Finding similar technology — drivers driving cars — the study concludes that underpayment of UberX drivers has been essential to Uber’s growth.

The study also criticized Uber’s right to change its contract with drivers at any time (which it suggested might violate Australia’s Competition and Consumer Act regarding fair contracts), Uber’s monitoring of driver performance through online ratings (which may not be reliable and are vulnerable to bias), that driver vehicles lack certain safety equipment regularly installed on taxis, that drivers work excessive hours, and that Uber seeks to provide excess capacity which can harm both drivers and congestion.

The study was particularly pointed in its assessment of who gains and who loses in Uber’s model: “The effective transfer of wealth from Uber drivers to the company’s owners (some of whom are billionaires)… is an especially galling distributional outcome.” The study’s conclusion is that Uber’s labor practices are “negative and exploitive.”

Study: Subsidising Billionaires: Simulating the Net Incomes of UberX Drivers in Australia and introduction