Uniting church in Australia tells staff to avoid using Uber due to company’s ‘unethical foundations’

Uber company’s ‘unethical foundations’


The Uniting church has told staff in Victoria and Tasmania to avoid using Uber services as the company does not align with its values.


In communications sent to staff this month, the church, which is one of the largest non-government providers of community services in Australia, said Uber had built its business on “unethical foundations”. It said this included treating its drivers as independent contractors and adopting a legal structure that was designed to avoid paying income tax on significant parts of its profits.

The church’s decision was made in part because of the Guardian’s Uber files investigation, which uncovered how the company broke the law, duped police and regulators and secretly lobbied governments across the world.

The Uniting church’s synod of Victoria and Tasmania is the first to break from Uber, but other states are also considering their position. It is understood a number of other Australian church-based and secular organisations are weighing a similar indefinite suspension of Uber services. In its email to staff announcing the change, the church says staff should only use Uber and other ride-share providers for work purposes when taxi services are unavailable.

It lists a series of grievances with the company, including that it “set itself up illegally in many places and then lobbied to get laws changed to accept its presence” and that it “played … workers off against each other, undermining pay and conditions for workers in the taxi industry”. The church said it was concerned a high proportion of Uber workers were earning below the minimum legal wage and there were compromises relating to the safety of drivers and passengers.

The moderator of the synod of Victoria and Tasmania, the Rev David Fotheringham, said staff supported the move. “Staff have generally been very supportive, we haven’t had any significant pushback at all,” he said. “The staff are very much on board with us trying to be ethical in all the decisions we make around purchasing, they’re used to paying attention to these things.

“The darker side of the story has been coming out over time … certainly the Uber files highlighted just what is going on at an international level and we’re really concerned [about] the local impact.” Fotheringham said the church had previously taken similar stands because of concerns about workers’ rights, including for cleaners and clothing manufacturers. The church did not approach Uber about its stance, and the company disputed many of the reasons it had given for its decision.

“While no doubt well-intentioned, this characterisation is unfortunate and not representative of the way the Uber platform operates,” an Uber spokesperson said.

“We welcome the opportunity to discuss these concerns directly with the church. The safety of everyone who uses the Uber platform is fundamental … and we are also committed to improving standards for independent contractors in the gig economy, while at the same time protecting the flexibility and independence we know they value.”

 

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Ilya Plekhanov, Wikimedia Commons / Ilya Plekhanov

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