Alas! Victory is already in the air (at least for now) for the two British cab drivers of arab descent that took cab hire giant app company ‘Uber’ to court recently in the United Kingdom. The legal suit filed by drivers Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar against ‘Uber’ over its failure to streamline its working conditions with British Labour Union wages and salary thresholds had seen many take ‘the-sit-back-and-watch approach’ as the app giants and its supposedly employees slug it out in the law court.
A keenly and closely fought legal tussle between Uber and the drivers had somehow successfully tested the credibility and structure of Britain’s employer-employee’s relation and code of conduct as laid down by law. It was a confrontation that had a reverberating effect; sending a message to many ‘Uber-like’ companies that are yet to treat their employees fairly.
It is an event that clearly attests to not only the responsiveness and responsibilities of Britain’s political institution and her judiciary, but also approves of the country’s labour union influence and proactiveness. What this means is that, the law is non-partial, and a reliable tool that adequately provides succor and refuge to the defenseless in the society.
Although Uber, has revolutionalized the cab industry ever since its inception, however, the contradiction in the app giant’s policy that borders on employment and its ‘modus operandi’ had somewhat become its nemesis as the recent happenings suggested.
Drivers Aslam and Farrar had accused the cab app giant of depriving them benefits, and other incentives as contained in the UK’s labour regulations. Both had taken Uber to court for its failure to treat them as employees thereby denying them of full benefits and wages as enshrined in the country’s labour laws.
And after ‘back and forth’ arguments and defense from both sides, the employment court ruled in favour of the two drivers saying, that they deserved to be paid ‘national living wage’ that entitles them to holiday, sickness, pensions pay and other workers right.
The verdict though, a monumental one, still has some meandering to do as regards the interpretation and definition of what Uber represents and its services. Meaning: the battle is not yet over as Uber plans to appeal the judgment at the UK employment appeal court.
Uber’s predicament could have a tremor effect on other companies in the UK that have adopted the ‘Gig economic business model’ in their operations.
The ‘Gig Economy business tool’ is a technology-driven business model that deals with providing goods and services through networking and apps. It is a flexible model that has been lauded for creating self-employment work-force but, now faces scrutiny from the UK regulatory authorities who believed some companies have now wrongly classified their workers as self-employed in order to avoid paying taxes to the government. A dangerous trend that Number 10 wants to arrest as reports suggests the country loses $314m yearly to companies running on the ‘Gig model’.
Guess it will no longer be business as usual for Uber and other app-based giants in the country as the GMB Union seek to rein in these companies’ growing influence and control over their workers.
The UK example is a sharp contrast to what exists in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, the story of workers and their plight have not been an encouraging one. Sordid or scurvy tales abound with no sign of reprieve or hope in sight. And to make matters worse, those in charge of guaranteeing workers’ rights, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have become either ‘fangless’ or ‘toothless’ in fighting for the rights of workers in both the public and private sectors.
Exploitation, debasement and unimaginable wages, and unfavourable employment terms like ‘contract workers’ have been the lot of the Nigerian workers over the years. It is a ‘fly-infested’ rot that even foreign owned companies from Asia have further desecrated- A terrible situation that has gone unchecked by not only the Unions but also the government.
The government’s laxity in ensuring the dignity of the Nigerian worker through its Ministry of labour, employment and productivity coupled with the two Union bodies have left workers vulnerable and at the mercies of employers in both the public and private sectors.
Paul Kaigama, TUC president and his NLC counterpart should reflect and evaluate the roles their respective bodies have played in protecting the rights of Nigerian workers. It is quite unfortunate that contract employment still holds sway in the Banking industry and other sectors of the economy right under the nose of these leaders.
Not only that, their failure to make the government review workers’ salaries and ensure that the 36 state governors align with the FG in the face of growing inflation and increment in petroleum price clearly shows a gloomy and pathetic picture of the average Nigerian worker.
The excuses bandied around by some governors that they can’t afford to pay the living wage nay pay salaries owing to drop in federal allocation as a result of dwindling oil revenues smack of hypocrisy and mischief.
While it is admissible that the country is in recession however, these governors and law makers have carried on with ‘the-business-as-usual mentality’ not giving a hoot about the economic downturn in the country when it comes to their own salaries and other benefits. It is already in the public sphere how these governors after completing their terms in office smile home to the bank on outrageous pensions for life benefits at the expense of the workers that plough the ‘farm land’. It clearly paints ‘ a monkey dey work, Baboon dey chop’ scenario.
Nigeria is not the only country facing recession. Venezuela an oil driven country like the African giant is going through tumultuous times too but, President Nicolas Maduro has been sensible and responsive enough to increase workers’ salaries by %30 to cope with the hard times.
This clearly contradicts and indicts those in government. The fate of the average Nigerian worker is nothing to write home about. Structures put in place to fight their course have been dealt serious blow owing to the failure of Union leaders to provide undiluted ‘comradeship’. It won’t be out of context to say they have somewhat used the Union platform to meander themselves into political offices. The past governor of Edo state avidly serves as a good reminder.
Whatever the situation is, all hope is not lost. There is no harm in starting afresh hence the leadership of the two Unions must endeavor to re-write a new chapter for their members. Workers are the engine room of the economy; it is a fact that cannot be discarded.
The Uber-driver standoff in the UK should serve as a wake-up call to not only NLC and TUC but also the government.