1 December 2017

UberEats' Europe Chief Jumps Ship As Business Practices Face Further Scrutiny

The head of UberEats in Europe has become the latest senior executive to leave the company, as the ride-hailing arm of the business faces further pressure over its working practices in the UK.

Jambu Palaniappan quit to join a European venture capital company in London, said Uber, which recently lost its licence to operate in the capital. 

The news came on Thursday as Uber faced questions from the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee over the hours worked by its cab drivers. The committee has demanded more information after the company failed to disclose how many drivers were working more than 70-80 hours a week.

Rachel Reeves, the committee chair, said: “Passengers booking journeys through Uber will want to know they are safe and secure. Uber needs to provide reassurance on these issues by setting out when it will introduce driver hour limits for its workforce and spell out what these limits will be.
Jambu Palaniappan speaks at an event in Cairo. Photograph: Mosa'ab Elshamy/AP
“Drivers working long hours risk compromising the safety of both themselves and their passengers. It is strange that a data-driven business like Uber appears unable to answer our question on how many of its drivers are working more than 70 and 80 hours a week. We expect them to now respond with the missing figures.”

Uber said: “Drivers spend an average of 30 hours a week logged into our app. However, this is not the same as the number of hours spent driving since drivers can log in while on a break or doing other things. We take the issue of tired driving seriously, which is why we regularly remind drivers to take rest breaks and will shortly be introducing hours limits in our app.”

Uber’s head of public policy, Andrew Byrne, and one of the company’s drivers were questioned by the committee last month.

On Wednesday, it emerged that 2.7 million people in the UK were affected by a 2016 security breach that compromised customers’ data, including names, email addresses and mobile phone numbers. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating the breach and could fine Uber. 

Palaniappan joined Uber five years ago and became head of UberEats for Europe, Middle East and Africa in August 2016, as the company was rolling out the food delivery service in the UK, going head to head with Deliveroo. He will depart at the end of January. 

In a memo circulated to UberEats staff on Thursday morning, Palaniappan said leaving Uber was an “extremely difficult decision”.

“When I joined this company in 2012, Uber was just a small startup with 75 employees focused primarily on the US,” he said.

Uber is appealing against Transport for London’s decision in September to withdraw its private-hire licence, when the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, accused the company of failing to “play by the rules”. It has recruited the former Bank of England adviser Laurel Powers-Freeling as chair of UK operations. Uber says it has 5m customers in the UK, served by 50,000 drivers.

The GMB union has instructed the law firm Leigh Day to apply to intervene, or be listed as an interested party, in the appeal being brought by Uber London against the TfL decision. 

In the application to Westminster magistrates court, GMB said it would like to participate in the appeal proceedings as it is concerned that Uber’s business model puts public safety at serious risk.

GMB claims that Uber encourages and incentivises drivers to work excessive hours. 

London Uber driver Syed Khalil, told the the Commons work and pensions committee in February that it was usual practice for drivers to work as much as 100 hours a week and claimed the company did not prevent drivers from logging on to do so

To retain their account status, Uber drivers also have to accept at least 80% of trip requests, according to the union.

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