Uber Gives U.K. Drivers Option to Buy Disability Benefits

  • Marks the first disability benefit to be offered by startup
  • Uber has faced criticism about its treatment of drivers

Uber Technologies Inc. will begin offering U.K. drivers the ability to buy injury and illness insurance, a step to provide a safety net for the independent drivers it has long been criticized for treating poorly.

The benefit is a first for Uber, which has faced lawsuits from drivers and government scrutiny around the world for not doing more to aid the thousands of drivers it classifies as freelance contractors rather than employees. The classification allows the company to avoid various tax and benefits costs that an employer incurs.

The insurance policy announced Thursday will only be available to drivers in the U.K. Those who have completed more than 500 rides will be eligible to pay 2 pounds ($2.58) per week for benefits that covers sickness and injury, jury service, as well as a 50,000-pound payout if an accident results in death or disablement. Uber says it’s contributing to the benefits package, which it says is worth 8 pounds per week.

Uber didn’t say whether the benefits would be rolled out elsewhere in the world. In the U.K., the coverage is being administered by a third-party -- the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, a membership group for freelance workers.

Jo Bertram, the regional general manager of Uber in the U.K., said in a statement that the benefit is a response to driver requests. It followed an announcement in February when the company began offering financial advice for drivers.

“Drivers who make money through Uber tell us they love the freedom of being their own boss and choosing if, when and where they drive," Bertram said. "But drivers have also told us they want more security if something unexpected happens."

Uber has long faced questions about its treatment of drivers. In the U.K., one of its largest and most well-established markets, the company is appealing a loss in a minimum-wage lawsuit over pay and vacation time -- a ruling that could have broad implications for how its drivers are compensated in the country. 

In the U.S., a $100 million settlement with drivers in California and Massachusetts was rejected by a federal judge. In February, Bloomberg published a video of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver about pay.

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