Inquiry into whether Uber breached Australian workplace laws starts

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A photo illustration shows the Uber app logo displayed on a mobile telephone, as it is held up for a posed photograph in central London, Britain October 28, 2016. Reuters/Toby Melville/Illustration - RTX2QUZA

Uber is being investigated in Australia over pay and work conditions. The Fair Work Ombudsman has revealed that it has started an inquiry into whether the ridesharing provider’s conditions for drivers comply with federal regulations.

An ombudsman spokesperson confirmed to Business Insider that the enquiry seeks to determine whether the engagement of Uber drivers is in line with workplace laws. The Ombudsman has the power to take legal action to force companies to abide by such laws.

The spokesperson maintained that since a live investigation is being conducted, it would not be appropriate to provide further comments. The probe specifically intends to determine whether Uber is breaking minimum wages law.

Uber drivers in Australia are contractors, not employees. However, they could not negotiate about matters related to working conditions or pay.

Several ride-sharing associations have voiced out their opinion against the treatment. RideShare Drivers United urges drivers to hand evidence to the Ombudsmen. The group stated on its website that in order to be classified as real subcontractors, drives need to have the ability to grow their business. They should also be able to negotiate service prices with customers, issue invoices and examine the Uber booking system, among others.

Some members of the group have reportedly met with staff from the Ombudsman's office in Melbourne. After months of campaigns, an investigation was launched this month.

According to an RSDU spokesman, the group has over 1000 registered members all over Australia, and drivers are not happy. "We are wrongly being classified as contractors while drivers cannot really grow their business, don't have access to customers, have no say over the fare pricing,” Gizmodo quotes the spokesperson as saying.

The RSDU spokesman added that Uber classified drivers as self-employed so they can underpay workers. The representative stressed the workforce is cheap when a business does not have to pay fair work entitlements. In UK, a workplace tribunal ruled that drivers must be classified as employees with access to minimum wage, sick pay and paid holidays.

Meanwhile, an Uber spokesman said more than 60,000 Aussie driver-partners opt to work using the Uber app so they can set their own schedule and be their own boss. The company’s representative assured they would be happy to assist the Fair Work Ombudsman with any questions they may have.

The probe in Australia is the latest in a string of regulatory and commercial setbacks to hit Uber. It is also facing some regulatory challenges in numerous jurisdictions over its technology.

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