A new survey of Uber drivers in Australia finds the vast majority are unhappy with what they're being paid

Al Seib / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images
  • A union survey of rideshare drivers found that many earn around $16 an hour, below the minimum wage, even before the cost of running their car is taken out.
  • Drivers are also concerned about their safety, with 969 instances of harassment and assault reported by the 1,100 drivers between July and October.
  • Uber said in response that it conducted its own survey last month and two-thirds of drivers said they’d recommend the job to friends and family.

While the introduction of ridesharing has been hailed as a win for consumers across Australia, a survey of how drivers feel about the job shows many earn below the minimum wage per hour, even before the costs of running their car are taken out, with 85% saying their not happy with what they earn.

A survey of more than 1,100 drivers – the vast majority of them working for Uber – by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) released today paints a damning picture beyond the five-star ratings where drivers are assaulted, racially abused, and their cars damaged, with the companies behind the apps failing to act. Meanwhile, drivers are threatened with deactivation if they don’t meet the demands of the billion-dollar multinationals running the services.

The TWU and Rideshare Drivers’ Co-operative survey found average hourly wage was $16 after company fees and taxes, but before costs such as fuel, insurance, and car maintenance. Three-quarters say the company commissions are too high, 40% struggle to pay their taxes and more than 60% of drivers say they cannot save for superannuation or annual leave.

Half of ride-share drivers work full time with almost a third saying they do it to pay debts. More than two-thirds of full-time drivers earn below average weekly earnings of $1,586.

While assaults by drivers have made headlines, 10% of drivers claimed they have been physically assaulted and more than 6% sexually assaulted, with another 37% saying they had received threats, including rape and against their families. Almost 30% received racist comments and 20% received sexual comments. More than 40% of drivers had property damaged. Some even reported having their cars stolen.

There were 969 reports of harassment and assault in the survey.

Nearly two-thirds of drivers claimed to have been subjected to false reports by passengers, and as a result some were immediately deactivated from the apps, even if it was just a case of the passenger leaving their wallet in the car.

Tony Sheldon, the former TWU national secretary who is standing as a Labor Senate candidate at the next election, and director of the union’s on-demand economy campaign, said the industry was “eighteenth century exploitation via an app”, with the companies responsible offering little support to their “partners”.

“These survey results are shocking and disturbing. They reveal the true face of the on-demand economy where Uber, Ola, Taxify and DiDi are ripping drivers off and forcing them to struggle,” he said

“They are offered no support when they face sexual or physical assault and must choose between taking time off work to recover or going back to work the next day in order to get paid. They are kicked off the app on a whim of the ride-share companies and prevented from earning a living.”

The survey also found Uber’s share-the-ride service, UberPool, saw a fall in earnings for nearly two-thirds of drivers, while a third said they don’t want to participate because of safety concerns.

TWUThe reasons people become rideshare drivers and their key concerns, as well as the impact of UberPool, according the TWU survey.

Rideshare Drivers’ Co-operative spokesperson Emmett D’Urso said drivers wanted to be paid a fairer rate and protected against threats and assault.

“We want to go to work and know our company will not sack us without giving us a right of reply,” she said. “We have rights and we want our companies to respect these rights.”

The survey of more than 1,100 drivers was conducted between July and October. Respondents work for Uber (97%), Ola (46%), Taxify (26%), DiDi (22%) and other ride-share companies (15%), with some drivers working for multiple ride-share companies.

In response to the TWU’s claims, Uber said it surveyed over 1,700 people last month who had driven for Uber in August, with two-thirds saying they’d recommend driving with Uber to friends and family. Around 93% said flexibility was the reason they were Uber drivers and 79% would be unlikely to continue driving with Uber if they had to drive fixed shifts.

“We want driver-partners to be successful which is why we invest in innovations to get more riders using the app and by sharing information with driver-partners to help them identify which parts of a city are busier than others at various times,” the Uber spokesperson said.

“Uber is committed to the safety of drivers-partners and we continue to work on promoting the safe use of our app and tackling tough issues.

“We have a range of channels for driver-partners to engage with Uber and provide feedback, including regular roundtables and focus groups, partner support centres around Australia, plus phone and 24/7 in-app support.”

Ola has also been contacted for comment.

Here’s the TWU’s infographic breakdown of what they found.

TWUThe key findings of the TWU’s ridesharing driver survey

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