Unions oppose bill opening door to Uber as minister argues in favour

Ljubljana – Trade unionists have came out against legislative amendments that would provide the legal basis for ride hailing platforms such as Uber arguing they often violate labour rights. Refuting the charge, Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec said the goal was to make transport services cheaper and more modern.

Amendments to the road transport act, which the minister expects to be passed in May, would add app-based ride services for a pre-agreed price to taximeter-based taxi services.

Saška Kiara Kumer, secretary-general of the Trade Union of Transport and Communications Workers, said that ride hailing platforms had proved exceptionally bad for employees.

Addressing reporters on Tuesday, she noted that Uber has many legal disputes open with workers and has lost some of them. “In places where it has been welcomed under its terms, precarisation increased and the safety of rides decreased.”

“We’re not changing any existing rules with the bill. All drivers, regardless of whether they use a taximeter or an app, will need to have an employment relationship under the valid labour law with all the permits, which vitally excludes undeclared work,” Minister Vrtovec said in response to the unionist press conference.

Kumer urged the proposal be withdrawn and submitted for inter-departmental adjustments, arguing the Labour Ministry had not been involved and the bill should have been debated by the Economic and Social Council, an industrial relations forum.

Commenting on that, Vrtovec said the Economic and Social Council had been acquainted with the bill and had backed it by two votes to one. The government and employers voted in favour.

“Some people in this country are for preserving monopolies, they’re willing to do everything in their power to keep them, from closing down streets, to making threats, insults, shouting in meetings when we want to talk,” said the minister, denouncing the conduct as unacceptable and deplorable.

Taxi drivers are sole proprietors and are using their own cars and leasing costly services from dispatch centres, the minister said, adding: “Under this law the rules will be the same for all.”

However, the union disagreed with the claim of a monopoly in the taxi services market. Kumer said even now most drivers barely made ends meet, and if they worked for Uber they would earn even less.

The taxi union’s shop steward Petra Krištof said Uber drivers had to pay a much higher cut of the revenue to the platform than Slovenian taxi drivers paid to dispatch centres for linking them with the clients.

Tea Jarc of the youth Trade Union argued the bill would only reduce labour standards and expand the room for precarious work forms. She said Uber was violating worker rights because it does not recognise drivers as employees, and was undermining transport and workplace security standards.

She also noted the issue of vulnerability of Uber’s databases on drivers and clients.

Meanwhile, Vrtovec cited an opinion poll by Valicon in which 52% of those questioned said taxi services were often overcharged. “Even more, as many as 57% agree with the claim that foreigners and tourists are often charged higher fares and 40% believe the drivers take the long way.”

He said the ministry wanted to lend an ear to the citizens. “We were appointed to improve services. That’s also why we took on the changes to the legislation that has a long history.”

The minister said the amendments were not drawn up for Uber alone. “Why we’re talking only about this provider. We can talk about apps that can also be developed by the Slovenian market. The main thing is that Slovenian labour law is respected and that taxes are paid in Slovenia,” he said.

The amendments are to be debated on the relevant parliamentary committee in May, after which they will be put to a vote at the plenary session, expectedly the same month, Vrtovec said, adding that from the end of May on the door would be open to a better system of rides.