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Uber Appy

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

Although not yet operating in Botswana, many of you who regularly travel overseas for business or pleasure will be familiar with the name ‘Uber’. 

The German word for ‘over’, but sharing a Larin root with the word ‘ubiquitous’ or commonplace, Uber is a mobile application to allow passengers to hail a cab using their smartphone.  Founded in 2009, the company began operations in San Francisco and is now one of the world's biggest ride-hailing services, operating in more than 450 cities in more than 70 countries.

Uber drivers operate independently in their area, under the company umbrella.  To set up as an Uber taxi operator, applicants have only to comply with the following conditions of work:

  • Must own a 4-door sedan, must seat 4 or more passengers excluding driver.
  • Year 2001* or newer.
  • Locally-registerd vehicle.
  • No marked, taxi, or salvaged vehicles.
  • Must pass Uber vehicle inspection.
  • The car must be currently registered, but your name does not have to be on the registration.
  • Drivers must be over 18

Oh, and possession of a Smartphone is a must!  You can easily see the attraction here.  Own any car in reasonable condition, have it inspected, fill out a form and you can be on the road and earning as an Uber=Pop (popular)  – easy as that; own a smart sedan and you can apply to be an Uber-Black driver.  With no effort, special skills or financial output, suddenly you are a semi-independent freelancer, can choose your own working hours and make money in your spare time.  The fare for the Pop  is costed at about half the normal cab fare, for the Black it’s about the same or less.  The driver takes 80% of the fare, 20% goes to Uber.

But the pertinent word there was the prefix ‘semi’.  An Uber driver is not totally free or freelancing.  On the one hand this ensures quality service since there is a rating element on the app for both passenger and driver.  So if the car is dirty or the driver rude, the passenger can let Uber know.  Similarly if the passenger causes problems, he or she is flagged up on the system as a difficult customer.  The rating is out of 5 and a driver with several rating of 4.2 or lower will be called in by Uber for a discussion and is in danger of losing their franchise rights so it pays them to be polite, on time and with a car in tip-top order.

At present there are around 150,000 Uber drivers around the world and everything in the garden is rosy.  

Or at least it was until 2 discontented Uber drivers in the UK decided that they did not care for their partially-freelance status and took Uber to court to argue for minimum wage, or in other words to be treated like low-paid salaried staff, rather than commissioned freelancers.  Their case was concluded this week, judgement awarded in their favour and suddenly those roses are full of nasty thorns.

The Employment Tribunal judge, A M Snelson, found that Uber's UK drivers are performing "unmeasured work", as defined by  HYPERLINK "" t "_blank" National Minimum Wage Regulation 45.This means that Uber's previous position, that its drivers were self-employed and therefore not entitled to anything other than their 75 per cent share of passengers' fares, has been overturned and the company must now pay them the British minimum wage.

Before the tribunal, the drivers' lawyer, Thomas Linden QC, argued that the written terms between drivers and Uber "should be read sceptically", with the judge summarising his argument on that point by saying that "they do not properly reflect their relationship. On the contrary, they are designed to misrepresent it” by making it appear as if Uber worked for the drivers, rather than the other way round.

Appearing for Uber, David Reade QC argued that the terms were valid "and fairly define [Uber]'s relationship with the claimants" and said that because the terms were agreed under Dutch law, the tribunal should not consider whether British laws (as opposed to wider EU minimum pay regulations) applied. Uber had argued that the agreement between it and its UK drivers was governed by Dutch law, but the EU's Rome I Regulations 2008 – still in force in the UK until at least 2019 – allowed the drivers to successfully argue that British law should be applied instead.

As Judge Snelson  HYPERLINK "" t "_blank" handed down his verdict in the preliminary hearing of Aslam, Farrar and others v Uber BV, Uber London Ltd and Uber Britannia Ltd., he was utterly scathing as he summed up Uber's operations and attempts to avoid liability for paying its drivers the minimum wage.

“Any organisation (a) running an enterprise at the heart of which is the function of carrying people in motor cars from where they are to where they want to be and (b) operating in part through a company discharging the regulated responsibilities of a [private hire vehicle] operator, but (c) requiring drivers and passengers to agree, as a matter of contract, that it does not provide transportation services (through UBV [Uber's Dutch holding company] or Uber London Limited, and (d) resorting in its documentation to fictions, twisted language and even brand new terminology, merits, we think, a degree of scepticism… We cannot help being reminded of Queen Gertrude's most celebrated line: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

One of the fictions he referred to was the Uber passenger invoice, "which is not an invoice and not sent to the passenger", while the twisted language was said by the judge to include contract terms that were so warped that Uber, by its own rules, had become a "client or customer of 'Customer'” – 'Customer' being what Uber's terms and conditions uses to describe its drivers.

A lawyer for the firm Leigh Day that represented UK Uber drivers, Annie Powell said in a statement ‘This is a groundbreaking decision. It will impact not just on the thousands of Uber drivers working in this country, but on all workers in the so-called gig economy whose employers wrongly classify them as self-employed and deny them the rights to which they are entitled."

Unsurprisingly Uber is contesting the ruling.  .
"Tens of thousands of people in London drive with Uber precisely because they want to be self-employed and their own boss," wrote Jo Bertram, Uber UK's regional general manager, in an email to CNET. "The overwhelming majority of drivers who use the Uber app want to keep the freedom and flexibility of being able to drive when and where they want."

No doubt the 2 test-case drivers are enjoying the taste of victory this week but as the old saying goes – ‘be careful what you wish for – you might just get it’.  In this case I would predict that with a wage and employee benefits will come corporate rules and regulations, including an hours of work contract.  No more freelancing out of study hours for students; no more second income in off time for those already employed; no more fitting in some paid chauffering for hard-up housewives filling in hours between the morning and afternoon school runs.  In future their hours will be proscribed, their wings clipped and their ‘app-iness severely curtailed. Pandora ’s Box has been opened and this victory might, alas, be of the Phyrric variety.

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at  HYPERLINK "" t "_blank"

You can easily see the attraction here.  Own any car in reasonable condition, have it inspected, fill out a form and you can be on the road and earning as an Uber=Pop (popular)  – easy as that; own a smart sedan and you can apply to be an Uber-Black driver.  With no effort, special skills or financial output, suddenly you are a semi-independent freelancer, can choose your own working hours and make money in your spare time.  The fare for the Pop  is costed at about half the normal cab fare, for the Black it’s about the same or less.  The driver takes 80% of the fare, 20% goes to Uber.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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