Australian taxi drivers sue Uber over 'illegal operations'

The damages being sought against Uber could be "in the hundreds of millions of dollars", but would be determined as part of the case or settlement negotiations.
The damages being sought against Uber could be "in the hundreds of millions of dollars", but would be determined as part of the case or settlement negotiations.PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (REUTERS, AFP) - A law firm has filed a class action against Uber Technologies on behalf of thousands of taxi and chartered drivers in Australia, accusing the world's largest ride-hailing company of operating illegally and harming them financially.

The lawsuit, filed at the Victoria Supreme Court by law firm Maurice Blackburn on Friday (May 3), was brought on behalf of about 6,000 drivers and taxi licence owners from across four Australian states, the lawyers said in a statement.

The cabbies are alleging that Uber gained an unfair advantage and destroyed their livelihoods by knowingly operating above the law.

Maurice Blackburn said their clients want to recover income they claim is lost as a result of Uber allegedly operating without proper licences for their drivers and vehicles.

"It is shaping (up) as one of the largest class actions in Australian history," said the firm's head of class actions Andrew Watson.

"This will be a landmark case regarding the alleged illegal operations of Uber in Australia and the devastating impact that has had on the lives of hard-working and law-abiding citizens here."

It is unclear whether the class action will be successful, or whether any payout - even in the multiple millions of dollars - would be anything more than a blip on the company's multi-billion dollar revenues.

 
 

But supporters hope it will serve as a reminder to investors that Uber's gig economy model is likely to face more legal and regulatory scrutiny.

An Uber spokesman said the company was not aware of the class action.

"We have not received any notification of a class action,"she said in an e-mailed statement. "We are focusing our efforts on delivering a great service to riders and drivers in the cities where we operate."

The damages being sought could be "in the hundreds of millions of dollars", but would be determined as part of the case or settlement negotiations, a Maurice Blackburn spokesman said.

Uber has proved popular with the Australian public, even in the face of resistance from the taxi industry and local authorities.

The loss-making ride hailing firm is planning to list in the United States at a valuation of up to US$91.5 billion (S$124.7 billion) in an initial public offering.

The company has already been hit by a series of scandals over executive misconduct, a toxic work atmosphere and potentially unethical competitive practices.

"It is a dud investment dressed up as something innovative," said Mr Tony Sheldon of the Transport Workers' Union. "Its business model is based on exploitation, lies and illegal activity."