Australian lawyers are taking their $500 million class action against Uber national

LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images

A Victorian class action on behalf of the taxi and hire car industry against ride-sharing service Uber is expanding nationally to include Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, with the law firm hoping thousands more drivers, operators and licence owners will sign up to the Supreme Court case.

Maurice Blackburn Senior Associate Elizabeth O’Shea said the total claim has the potential to be the biggest class action in Australian history, in terms of both the number of people involved and the compensation sought.

The Victoria part of the claim is already seeking $500 million.

“Uber sells a notion that it’s just here to do things differently, but in reality and as we will allege, different has meant operating unlawfully and that has caused extensive loss and damage to law-abiding taxi and hire car operators and licence holders across the country,” she said.

“It was Uber’s conduct that led to decimating losses suffered by our group members and for those reasons it is the multi-billion dollar company Uber and its associated entities that we are targeting in order to provide redress to those affected.

Drivers in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia can register to be a part of the Victorian action from today, joining more than 1,000 registered claimants from Victoria.

NSW Taxi Council CEO Martin Rogers said his organisation welcomed the chance for the organisation’s members to join the action.

“Taxi licence owners, operators and drivers have suffered enormously, both emotionally and financially, causing a significant impact on their livelihood,” he said.

The Taxi Council’s backing comes despite a $250 million compensation fund set up by the NSW government for the industry, which is offering a one-off $20,000 payment to taxi licence plate holders (or $40,000 for multiple plates), which is being paid for by a $1.10 levy on passengers for every trip in a ride-sharing car or taxi.

Similar compensation packages were introduced in Queensland ($100 million) and Victoria, where the government is spending $450 million and paying licence holders $100,000 for a single plate and $50,000 for a second licence.

The class action also has the backing of the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), which has been launching its own legal action against “gig economy” businesses such as the failed meal delivery business Foodora, in a fight over pay for contractors.

TWU on-demand economy co-ordinator Tony Sheldon said taxi industry incomes went into “free-fall in the few years Uber has been here” and pushed some drivers to take their own lives, adding that the situation is also dire for ride-share drivers.

“Uber drivers are also struggling on low rates of pay because of continually slashed rates and high company commissions,” he said.

“The Uberisation of working lives, whether it involves rideshare drivers or taxi drivers, has re-introduced 18th century working conditions, this time via an app. This class action will go some way to put Uber on notice that the Australian community will not accept this,” Sheldon added.

“Uber is hoping for a valuation of $120 billion ahead of its public sale next year but this class action shows the house of straw it is built on. It is being held to account for the trail of destruction it has caused.

“Despite its backers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Uber’s liabilities are massive.”

A survey of 1,100 rideshare drivers in Australia by the TWU, released earlier this year, concluded that the average pay was $16 per hour before fuel, insurance and other costs are taken out.

An Uber spokesperson told Business Insider that 3.8 million Australians regularly use Uber.

“We are focusing our efforts on delivering a great service to riders and drivers in the cities where we operate,” he said.

“Despite a number of media stories to date, we have not received any notification of a class action.”

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