Video report by ITV News Business and Economics Editor Joel Hills
Uber failed to contest the case so, in a default judgement, the Amsterdam District Court accepted the union’s claim that the drivers were fired unlawfully by Uber’s computer algorithm.
Uber’s great asset is its technology. The company’s app processes data at speed and on a scale that human couldn’t, connecting its 70,000 drivers in the UK with customers, and setting prices.
The union argues that the app sometimes makes errors.
Abdifatah Abdalla was fired by Uber last year after the app detected two attempts to access his account from two different devices in two locations that were far apart.
Uber accused him of sharing his account. He insists he didn’t.
Uber informed Abdifatah he was being “deactivated” on 27th September because of “evidence indicating fraudulent application activity”. Uber didn’t provide any evidence to support the decision and still hasn’t.
Uber reported his dismissal to Transport for London. On 13th October, TFL informed Abdifatah he was no longer considered “fit and proper” to hold a private hire licence and he was ordered to return it.
“I’ve lost all my income because of what they did to me,” Abdifatah told ITV News.
“I lost my Uber job, I lost my job with Kapten, with Bolt, I lost all my mini-cabbing. When they shut you down everywhere, then you feel you are in a dark place. There is nothing you can do because you are hopeless, you feel helpless”.
Abdifatah Abdalla said he felt 'angry, hopeless and helpless' after being accused of fraud by Uber
Uber’s European business is headquartered in Amsterdam.
The App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) took legal action against the company there on behalf of Abdifatah and five other drivers.
The ADCU claims they were all, in effect, fired by Uber’s computer algorithm without any meaningful human intervention.
On 24th February, Uber failed to appear to contest the case and, in its absence, the Amsterdam District Court issued a default judgement.
The judgement states the dismissals were “based solely on automated processing”; that the six drivers should be reinstated; and Uber should pay fines and compensation of 150,000 Euros.
In a statement, Uber explained it didn’t fight the case because it only found out about its existence last week.
The company says this was because the ADCU’s legal team “failed to follow proper legal procedure”.
An Uber spokesperson said: “With no knowledge of the case, the Court handed down a default judgement in our absence, which was automatic and not considered.
"Only weeks later, the very same Court found comprehensively in Uber’s favour on similar issues in a separate case. We will now contest this judgement.”
Anton Ekker, the lawyer who represents the App Driver and Couriers Union, says he was “surprised” when Uber didn’t show up at court. He insists he took steps to notify them.
“Both the writ of summons and the judgement were served by bailiffs to the headquarters of Uber in Amsterdam. I also informed Uber before I brought the case that I would take legal action if they would not reverse the deactivation of my clients,” Ekker said.
“I’m a bit puzzled, to be honest."
The General Secretary of the App Drivers & Couriers Union, James Farrar, said: “For the Uber drivers robbed of their jobs and livelihoods this has been a dystopian nightmare come true.
"They were publicly accused of ‘fraudulent activity’ on the back of poorly governed use of bad technology. This case is a wake-up call for lawmakers about the abuse of surveillance technology now proliferating in the gig economy."
Uber uses technology to keep its platform safe. Facial recognition software and location data is deployed to authentic its drivers.
Uber wouldn’t tell us how many drivers have been fired for failing Real-Time ID checks since they were introduced a year ago or how often the technology makes errors. But Uber insists that no accounts are deactivated without a human examining an automated decision.
On Monday of this week, the City of London Magistrates Court ordered Transport for London (TFL) to reinstate Abdifatah Abdalla’s private hire licence, following his appeal.
The chairman of the bench criticised TFL’s “willingness to accept [the evidence] Uber provided” and concluded “no investigation has taken place”.
Artificial intelligence has enormous potential and is playing an increasingly prominent role in the workplace, in the gig economy in particular.
Companies like Uber are under pressure to be more transparent about what data they collect and how it is used.