Blog: Uber – Social inclusion or new risks for immigrant drivers? by Magdaleena Lehmuskoski

As global migration accelerates, the integration of immigrants challenges societies. Could platform models, such as Uber, provide social inclusion or do they merely entail new risks?

Uber is a controversial global ride-sharing company providing a platform to connect drivers and passengers. It employs over one million drivers, many of them immigrants. Requiring virtually only a driving license and a vehicle, Uber provides immigrants low-threshold employment while other jobs are hard to find.

Uber promises its drivers flexible, supplementary work. However, many immigrant drivers depend on Uber as full-time employment. Wishing to find a job, they are often compliant with low salaries and limited rights. On average, Uber drivers earn the minimum wage or less. Compulsory expenses, such as commissions, insurances and vehicle costs further increase the risk of economic hardship and indebtedness.

Uber classifies its drivers as self-employed, which shrewdly shifts responsibilities and risks to the drivers. Weak social protection increases the drivers’ vulnerability. In case of social risks, such as accidents, sickness or unemployment, they are liable to cover for themselves. Furthermore, weak regulation creates job insecurity. Uber drivers might get fined or sacked if they reject too many trips or receive poor feedback. A big labour reserve means that they are easily replaceable.

Taxi drivers are exposed to discrimination based on race, ethnicity and language. Though the Uber feedback system is intended to protect drivers and passengers, it has also been accused of unreliability and discrimination. Immigrant drivers have been given poorer ratings based on ethnicity. Rides have also been cancelled once the driver’s racial background has been discovered. Lower scores reduce booking rates and increase the risk of dismissal. This severely compromises the livelihoods of immigrant drivers.

Undoubtedly, Uber offers immigrants prominent employment and integration opportunities. However, their livelihoods being heavily dependent on Uber imposes immigrant workers to a cycle of socioeconomic vulnerability. As labour demand remains insufficient, economic circumstances pressure them to silently endure. Hence, governmental policies should more decisively promote fair organization of work and social protection coverage of all workers regardless of ethnicity.