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THE government was accused today of putting lives in danger by failing to impose health regulations on private-hire vehicles to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) union warned that a “deadly combination of mixed messages and poor safety guidance” from the Department for Transport (DfT) and Transport for London (TfL), together with “operator greed” on the part of firms such as Uber and Addison Lee, could put the lives of drivers and passengers at risk.
Last week, the DfT said drivers should not be “generally considered critical workers” but they might be “considered so on a case-by-case basis.”
TfL revealed that it is seeking further clarification from the DfT and agreed that there is “some ambiguity.”
UPHD pointed out that impoverished drivers are forced to carry on working despite the health risk due to the “labour exploitation and employment misclassification rife” in the industry.
Drivers are at considerable risk of infection within the confines of a small vehicle through their exposure to passengers who may be infected with the virus.
UPHD chairman James Farrar said: “With London now a coronavirus hotspot, [it] is unconscionable that there has been no regulatory intervention to reduce the risk of infection to 110,000 vulnerable workers licensed by TfL as private-hire drivers.
“The government and TfL must act now to shut down the trade for all but essential journeys.”
Mr Farrar said the authorities must immediately enforce “strict safety standards” for private-hire operators, including procedures for vehicle disinfecting, regular testing of drivers for Covid-19 and provision of personal protective equipment for them.
Last week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an income-support scheme for self-employed workers, providing them with a grant equating to 80 per cent of their average monthly profits, capped at £2,500.
But no money will be paid until June, meaning that drivers have to keep working in order to service vehicle-financing commitments and meet basic family needs.
“The government must act to provide drivers with financial assistance now, rather than in June, and insist upon worker rights protection under the law so that nobody is forced into exploitative, high-risk work due to personal financial hardship,” Mr Farrar insisted.
UPHD has also urged operators to slash their commissions to no more than 5 per cent on essential journeys. Uber currently retains 25 per cent of fares.
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