Cab drivers in Australia begin fight against Uber as huge class action launched

LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images
  • Maurice Blackburn Lawyers have filed a class action against Uber alleging illegal actions.
  • Uber started operating in Victoria in 2012 but was not legalised until 2017.
  • An expert says the case has a strong chance.

Uber’s day in court is now near after high profile class action law firm Maurice Blackburn Lawyers filed its case in the Victorian Supreme court on Friday, claiming Uber had destroyed the livelihood of thousands of drivers.

Senior associate at Maurice Blackburn, Elizabeth O’Shea alleged in a statement Uber had operated “unlawfully, using devious programs like ‘Greyball’”. Greyball is Uber’s user tracking app used to identify fraudulent users but that s used to help Uber evade authorities.

“All of this caused extensive loss and damage to law-abiding taxi and hire car drivers, operators and licence holders across the country,” she said.

“Uber came in and exploited people by operating outside of regulations and it was Uber’s conduct that led to horrible losses being suffered by our group members.”

Uber, when contacted, said it was not aware of any class action.

“Uber has not been served with a class action claim. We understand there are media reports suggesting that Maurice Blackburn has filed a claim that will allege Uber operated illegally in Australia,” they said in a statement to Business Insider.

“Uber denies this allegation and, if a claim is served making it, the claim will be vigorously defended.”

The Supreme Court of Victoria could neither confirm nor deny that service of the class action had been made.

News.com.au reports that Uber operated illegally in Victoria until August 2017, arriving in the state in November 2012. The ABC reports the ACT was the first to legalise Uber, in October 2015, while in NSW it took until December 2015.

Professor Greg Bamber from Monash Business School told Business Insider Australia he thought the case had a good chance of success due to Uber having operated illegally in the period before 2017 in Victoria.

“These taxi drivers followed the law and bought taxi licenses, registered them and the value of their licensees has been greatly diminished by the entry of Uber to the market illegally,” he said. “I think they might win but you can never tell what happens in a court case like this.”

The case will cover drivers from across Australia, with more than 6,000 taxi, hire car, charter vehicle and limousine drivers and license owners already registered online for the case.

Maurice Blackburn is reporting the class action will be backed by Harbour Litigation Funding, a global funder established in 2007 that funds class actions around the world.

Maurice Blackburn’s senior associate Elizabeth O’Shea said in a statement there were to be no out of pocket costs or liability risks for those who register for the case.

Melbourne taxi driver Nick Andrianakos, owner and operator of a tax license in Brunswick, will be the lead plaintiff in the case. In Maurice Blackburn’s statement, he said Uber had taken away his “whole life”.

“I can clearly remember the day it all became too much – I just stopped driving that day and had to go home to be with my wife,” he said.

“The way this all happened was not right, so now I am standing up along with thousands of other Australians that have been devastated by Uber’s alleged illegal operations to hold Uber to account.”

The Guardian reports Uber survived a legal challenge in the UK in February this year after a challenge brought against it in the high court by the United Cabbies Group.

Uber is planning to do an IPO later this year, with Bloomberg reporting the business has already sold out on the full 180 million shares its offering with an expected valuation of US$90 billion.

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