Food delivery staff working in Japan for ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc. said Wednesday they plan to form a labor union in a bid to improve what they see as disadvantageous treatment for being classified as independent contractors rather than employees.
“The delivery staff are working under the instructions of Uber, so they should be treated the same as employees,” said Yoshihito Kawakami, a lawyer supporting workers for Uber Eats in Japan, at a meeting to prepare for the launch of the labor union.
Around 20 delivery riders attended the meeting in Tokyo, which was organized by the Japan Community Union Federation. They said they hope to recruit more members and launch the union later this year.
The move comes as the U.S. company faces criticism for evading its responsibility as an employer by not paying social insurance contributions to provide delivery riders with accident compensation and sickness benefits.
The company insists that it does not hire workers and is just offering a platform connecting delivery staff, businesses and customers. But critics argue that a de facto employment relationship exists as Uber decides on payments for the delivery riders and manages orders.
Under the service, delivery riders on bicycles and motorcycles are directed by the company to pick up food and drink items at restaurants that have been ordered using the Uber Eats app and website.
The service is available in 10 cities across Japan including Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, with the number of delivery riders totaling over 15,000, according to lawyers supporting the Uber Eats workers.
“I’m afraid the operator won’t compensate me if I have an accident during a delivery, as the risk is growing amid a glut of orders,” said a delivery man from Nagoya in central Japan at the meeting.
Uber has been dogged by disputes over labor issues in the United States and other countries, where drivers for its ride-hailing service have set up labor unions. But Uber has refused to negotiate with the unions, according to the lawyers.