British Columbia

B.C. Uber drivers say they were fired for refusing unsafe work, file labour complaint

Drivers were fired following alleged conflicts with customers who refused to wear masks and follow passenger limits, says B.C. labour union.

Drivers fired after bad reviews from riders who were refused service for violating COVID-19 safety measures

Uber drivers discovered their Uber app was disabled by the company, meaning they could no longer carry out rides and make money. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Three Uber drivers who were fired after alleged conflicts with passengers refusing to follow COVID-19 safety rules have filed a complaint against the tech giant through B.C.'s Labour Relations Board.

The drivers claim they were unfairly fired after refusing unsafe work. The complaint was filed on their behalf by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 1518.

Union president Kim Novak said all drivers were highly rated on the app, but were unfairly fired after a small number of bad reviews from disgruntled riders who were refused service for violating Uber's COVID-19 safety measures.

"These drivers are following the rules, but they're ultimately being punished for it," said Novak.

In one case, a passenger lashed out at a driver who asked them to put on a mask, according to the union. The union says the passenger threatened the driver, who was forced to call the police to remove them from his car.

In another case, a driver refused to take four passengers in his car in accordance with Uber's COVID-19 safety rules. The driver believes the passenger retaliated against him by leaving a bad review and rating.

Novak said all three drivers routinely face angry and intoxicated passengers who threaten bad reviews when told to tone down their behaviours.

She said the drivers discovered their Uber app was disabled by the company, meaning they could no longer carry out rides and make money.

"After working full-time for Uber and investing in new vehicles and ensuring they were following their protocols, they are left unemployed and Uber has failed to respond on any of their concerns regarding this, or to put them back onto the app," said Novak.

The drivers named in the complaint are Puneet Kumar, Parminder Singh Kullar, and Bhupinder Singh. Through the labour relations complaint, they hope to be reinstated and compensated for lost wages.

Independent contractors

CBC News reached out to Uber for a response, but did not hear back by the time of publishing.

In B.C., Uber drivers are considered independent contractors. The ride-hailing company has long designated workers as contractors, however authorities in many jurisdictions, including across the world have ruled that they are employees.

A declaration as employees typically provides workers with more protections, including minimum wage and vacation pay.

Uber has long refused to recognize couriers and drivers using its platform as employees and instead liken them to independent contractors because they have the flexibility to drive or deliver as little or as much as they want.

UFCW 1518 is among groups that have lobbied for drivers to be recognized as employees in B.C., including in a labour board filing in 2019. However, that application was dismissed.

Most recently, the union sent a letter to B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains calling for B.C.'s employment standard to be amended to "enable app-based contract workers like Uber drivers to join a union, classify them as employees and allow them to receive other basic protections."

"We're calling for more changes so that this doesn't happen to more drivers," said Novak.

Earlier this year, a class action lawsuit against Uber arguing that drivers should be recognized as employees and entitled to higher wages and protections was certified in Ontario. Lawyers involved in the case say if drivers win, it could change employment classifications across the country.

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