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Uber Eats drivers marched on NSW Parliament today, protesting an alleged algorithm change they say slashed their income by up to 50%

Sharon Masige, James Hennessy
  • Uber Eats drivers and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) hit the streets today outside NSW Parliament to demand government action in response to pay cuts.
  • According the TWU, drivers have had an effective 50% pay cut to around $13 an hour in recent months thanks to an alleged algorithm change.
  • In response to the protest, an Uber spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider Australia that the company had not changed "the way delivery partner earnings are calculated".

Uber Eats drivers descended upon New South Wales state parliament today to protest alleged algorithm changes favouring cyclists and bike riders at their expense.

A survey conducted by the Transport Worker's Union (TWU) showed Uber Eats drivers have had a 50% pay cut to around $13 an hour in recent months.

The the TWU said in a statement that many Uber Eats drivers "struggle to pay rent, bills and support their families".

According to the TWU, delivery drivers saw a drop in income following changes Uber Eats made which prioritised cyclists and scooter riders. The union says this has led to a significant reduction in work for drivers, making it harder for them to earn money.

"One respondent to the survey said he was on the brink of homelessness: “Barely affording rent, thinking of sleeping in my car," the TWU said in a statement.

Drivers in Sydney, together with the TWU and Labor senator Tony Sheldon, delivered a letter to the shadow minister for the gig economy, Daniel Mookhey, at NSW Parliament, demanding a legislative response to their concerns.

"UberEats did not consult drivers or inform them of the changes, despite many people buying, upgrading and renting cars to carry out the work," the TWU said in a statement.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said in the statement that the "true dystopian nature of Uber has been revealed through the survey".

"They pick and choose who, when and where they want the work to go," he said.

"Last week it was car drivers, this week it is cyclists and scooter riders. There’s no process to inform people that they are about to lose income which will drastically affect their ability to pay rent and support their families. There is no minimum rate, no compensation over lost earnings, and so these drivers are being thrown on the Uber scrap heap.

"This is the reality of the gig economy: it is destroying lives and the federal government is standing by and allowing it to happen.”

Speaking to Business Insider Australia at the protest, Uber Eats driver Jimmy, who has been using the app for two years, said the change took place several months ago and occurred suddenly.

"They just changed it – there was no particular information given," he said. "They're exploiting drivers. If you're in a car, you're at a disadvantage."

"We know how much we used to get paid, and now we're getting crap. We can see bikes getting jobs while we wait outside the restaurant for half an hour with our app turned on and get nothing. Just because we own a car.

"It's supposed to be whoever is closest and whoever has waited the longest – but it's not the case."

In a statement to Business Insider Australia, an Uber spokesperson said the company had made "no changes to the way delivery partner earnings are calculated, which continues to include a pick-up fee, drop-off fee, and a per-kilometre distance calculation."

“While earnings vary depending on when and where partners choose to deliver, we work with delivery partners to provide additional information about ways to maximise their potential earnings," the statement reads.

The Uber Eats drivers at the protest do not argue there has been a change to the way their earnings are calculated. Instead, they say they are receiving significantly less work through the app, which is driving their earnings down.

The Uber spokesperson asserted that the company's drivers "value the freedom of being their own boss" and claimed most use the Uber Eats app to supplement other income.

In September, the TWU announced it would take Uber to court after an unfair dismissal case by an Uber Eats driver. The TWU is appealing a decision by the Fair Work Commission, which rejected an unfair dismissal claim by sacked Uber Eats driver Amita Gupta.

“Other jurisdictions around the world are regulating the gig economy because they have seen how expendable companies like Uber sees its workforce," Kaine said in a statement. "In Australia the government refuses to acknowledge the problem and is failing to act."

Last year's TWU survey of food delivery riders found that three out of every four are paid below the minimum wage. It also found that almost 50% of riders had either been injured on the job or knew someone who had.