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Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers
21/02/2018

CAREY, Mr Michael, Public Policy and Federal Affairs, Uber Australia and New Zealand

ROHRSHEIM, Mr David, General Manager, Uber Australia and New Zealand

[15:50]

CHAIR: I now welcome Mr David Rohrsheim and Mr Carey. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you.

Mr Rohrsheim : Yes.

CHAIR: I invite you to make a short opening statement and then we will ask some questions.

Mr Rohrsheim : Thank you, committee, for having us. I finished up a MBA in 2012 in San Francisco and came across a group of people who had developed an app on a very simple concept: press a button and you get a ride. I asked if I could give that a go in Australia. That was five years ago. Today we have hundreds of Australians employed across five states working hard to make this experience work. We work with drivers, delivery partners, passengers, consumers, restaurants. The app offers ride-sharing services in 19 areas around Australia. We also help thousands of restaurants deliver food in 12 cities across the country. Committee members might be familiar with either the Uber app or the Uber Eats app, but let me provide a brief overview of how they work.

The basic premise of the Uber ride-sharing app was to match someone looking for a ride with someone providing one. The first thing I did when I founded the business here in 2012 was wander down to the Sydney airport taxi car park. I was explaining to existing limousine drivers, existing taxi drivers that they could use this app to find extra work. It would be fair to say, plenty of them laughed at this young thing coming to them with this new idea because it was not a new concept to them. They already had CB radio trunk networks; they had blackberry messenger groups; they had email—many different ways of finding work for their own independent operations. Uber's app would just be another way to help them find my work more easily, so the technology was new but the business model was not.

Uber Eats app is one year old and operates in a three-way marketplace. If a restaurant wants to increase its home delivery capabilities, the app connects it with people in the neighbourhood looking for food. Once an order is put in, the app finds a delivery partner who can take the food from the restaurant to their home. I can assure you this is very popular with staffers in Parliament House. Today we work with 80,000 Australians all up who drive or deliver food. There are 3.4 million people on a regular basis using the app for this convenience.

From Cairns to Perth, you can use your phone to request a safe, affordable, reliable ride. It is no longer a service just limited to capital cities; you can partner with Uber in Townsville, Cairns, Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and other regional centres. It is not uncommon in these areas to find in places where car ownership is high and public transport is limited, a decent number of folks just logging onto the Uber app Friday and Saturday night from their home. And when there is someone nearby who has had a bit too much to drink, they are there to take them home.

This committee is here today because the world has changed in the last five years. There is no doubt that the world of work is changing. The capacity to generate genuinely flexible income at the push of a button changes the way people can and do interact with the economy. These 80,000 people using the app to access flexible income have only one thing in common: they are all engaging with the apps in a different way at different times to achieve their own individual goals. Flexibility is the number one reason drivers say they enjoy using the Uber app.

I note that I don't speak for the whole industry. Some of our competitors may be a bit more prescriptive in how their apps are used. Whilst there is much that is new and innovative about how Uber operates, the way we engage with these drivers—the independent contracting model—is perhaps the least innovative part of what we do. Independent contracting and small business ownership have long been part of the economic landscape in Australia. They are legal, efficient and essential ways of operating many businesses, not just Ubers.

We believe Uber's technology has enormous potential to improve how people access economic opportunities. Right now it is giving power and control to individuals to access earning opportunities, facilitate a work-life balance and create new opportunities for people traditionally marginalised in the labour market. I overheard some witnesses earlier discussing discrimination in the workforce. We've made huge investments in making our technology work for as many people as possible. I note that the app is fully usable by blind passengers. We have deaf drivers on the platform because the destinations appear on and the communications can happen through the app. That's work that wasn't available to them in a street-hail taxi world. There's no discrimination; it's the same deal for all safe drivers. They are welcome to use the platform. Technology is enabling individuals for whom the nine-to-five doesn't suit.

I've seen this firsthand. It is an opportunity for students to work in the evenings or parents to fit in some hours while the kids are at school. A good number of retirees in the eastern suburbs of Sydney are not doing it strictly for the money; they're doing it as an activity for a few hours. There are also individuals between jobs. We also heard about how important it is to transition when Uber is an option. They can access income while they conduct interviews and potentially look for the job that they really want. These opportunities have made a massive difference in regional towns like Townsville, which has been hard-hit by structural factors.

We take our role in the community very seriously. We have worked hard as the business has grown to provide our partners with the support they need to support their own businesses and play our part in the Australian community. This means helping our partners run their business as best as they can. I'll note for the government that an app model where all the transactions happen on credit cards—on the record—makes the black economy a thing of the past. All the drivers are contracting with Australian entities, which means the financial transactions are happening through the app. Every cent can be accounted for. We work with the ATO on data-matching initiatives so that every cent is accounted for.

To finish, I want to say that we are committed to engaging in constructive discussions about how technology such as ours can contribute to new models of social protection and harness the potential of flexible, independent earning opportunities in Australia. We have a track record of working with state transport departments on coming up with new regulations to support this new mode of work that has benefited the entire industry. We're committed to working with stakeholders in this category as well. We are very pleased to be here and are happy to take any questions.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Mr Carey, would you be willing to tell us a bit about your backstory and how you came to be an Uber driver and your experiences?

Mr Carey : Sure. Just to be clear, I have driven on the platform, but I'm not an Uber driver. I work in the public policy team at Uber.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I thought it was a bit odd that you would just bring one driver! My apologies.

CHAIR: Thanks for coming along today. It has been very good to have one of the leading participants in the gig economy come along as a witness. We're keen to hear from all participants in the industry. It won't surprise you to hear that we have had some evidence both today and yesterday identifying Uber and some of the other leading digital platforms—Foodora, Deliveroo and others as well. We've heard some criticism that digital platforms are just the new way of continuing some of the negative labour market change that we've seen happen over the last 20 or 30 years and that it's just a new form of providing ways for workers to not receive fair remuneration and conditions for their work. Starting in a general way, what would your response be to that line of criticism?

Mr Rohrsheim : I can't speak to what happened over the last 20 or 30 years, so I won't know what comparisons and distinctions to make. I think flexibility, potentially, has been a word that has scared individuals in the past because flexibility might have meant that you don't know when your next shift is going to be and you don't know how many hours you're going to get. Flexibility in our world means these drivers can log on whenever they want; they can do one hour; they can just do it on their way to their office; or they can log on and say: 'I work at Sydney Airport. I'm willing to pick up anybody that happens to be going in the same direction.' If they are, great; if they aren't, no big deal. They can do it full-time or they can stop doing it for a few months, but it's completely in their control. It's flexibility so that they can fit in work when it works for them. I think that's new. I think that's flexibility that is empowering workers, as opposed to, maybe, some of the flexibility in the past that has had different connotations.

CHAIR: There's been a lot of litigation, both in Australia and overseas, involving Uber and other digital platforms to really try to pin down whether the people working for these platforms are traditional employees or independent contractors or have some other kind of status. That's obviously something that Uber has a very strong position on. What is Uber's position?

Mr Rohrsheim : As I mentioned, our model is that these 80,000 individuals are running their own business. They're independent operators driving someone from A to B. We've got some technology that helps them find passengers or some food to deliver. Remembering where we started in the personal transport industry, the taxi industry, I don't think what we are doing is very different to anything you've seen in the past. The drivers are remunerated each time they pick someone up based on a certain amount for the pick-up, a certain amount per kilometre and a certain amount per mile. There's nothing new about that. It's up to them where they work, how often they work, how many people they pick up—so there's not a lot that's new there.

With regard to some litigation, I'm sure it's been brought to the committee's attention by now that individuals have sought to test this question and have said, 'Look, for whatever reason, I'm unhappy with how I've been treated, and I demand whatever fixes or corrections I want.' The Fair Work Commission heard a case just recently, in December, and it was nothing less than a deputy president who came to the conclusion that it was very clear that this individual using the Uber app was not an employee of Uber. The defining characteristic—and there were some 22 pages worth of reasoned judgement, but the most important one—he said, was that these people have no obligation to show up; that is not what an employment model looks like. They have no obligation to show up on any day, at any hour. It's completely up to them.

CHAIR: I absolutely accept that the Fair Work Commission has made a determination here. I don't know whether it is being appealed. Do you know?

Mr Rohrsheim : Not to my knowledge.

CHAIR: My impression is that Uber does have a high degree of control over the people driving using the platform. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but my understanding is that, for instance, Uber does set the prices that people can charge, at least whether it's a per kilometre rate or however it's determined; is in charge of assigning particular jobs; and has the ability to terminate a driver's work. There are a range of things that would traditionally have been seen as indicators of an employment relationship. How is it that Uber says that, despite all of those high degrees of control, the people driving for you are not employees?

Mr Rohrsheim : I'm happy to address those one by one. Firstly, with regard to pricing: thinking back to how the Uber app works, a passenger presses a button and, magically, within two minutes, someone is there to pick them up. That convenience is made possible by having some advance agreement on what the prices will be. Traditionally, in the limousine industry, you're calling up Mike. If he was available, he'd answer, and you'd say where you want to go, and he'd give you a price. Maybe he wasn't available, so he calls another mate, and then you accept or reject that negotiation. Sometimes that was happening on the side of the street and sometimes that was happening at the airport terminal. What we did in the app is, by saying that a whole bunch of drivers have signed up and they've all agreed to these rates, that bit of the process is taken away, and you're pressing a button and you're getting picked up in a couple of minutes. That has grown the industry enormously. It has created more jobs and more work than there was before. That's why we have published rates in each state, almost in each city, at certain base rates.

That said, those fares change. You might have heard about dynamic pricing and surge pricing. Most New Year's Days there's a story in the media about how expensive it was to get home on New Year's Eve on the Uber platform. What that means is that in places where there is high demand from passengers and potentially not enough drivers to meet the demand prices automatically go up. Customers are notified: 'Are you okay with this—yes or no?' The drivers see that on their maps—there are heat maps across the city that tell them: if you go to this area you'll earn more. It is somewhat predictable—Friday afternoons, at sports matches et cetera—so we'll communicate with drivers and say, 'If you want to come and earn more, these are the right times and these are the right places to be.' I do know of individuals who say, 'If I'm at home on a Friday watching TV and I get a ping that's more than 1½ times the normal rate then I get off the couch, get in the car and drive someone from A to B.' In that respect they're setting their price. They're also free to do their own work for their own private clients on the side. That's our philosophy on pricing and why it has been good for the drivers to have that timely negotiation done through the app.

With regard to assigning the work, essentially the point of the algorithm is that the closest available driver is typically the one that the work goes to. The alternative that might be considered is potentially paging the 10 nearest drivers and then setting up some sort of a race, where they're rushing to accept the job whether or not it's the right job for them. We don't think that's the safest way, so it goes to the closest driver and they have 10 seconds to accept or reject the job. They're totally free to say: 'I'm having a coffee break. I don't want to do that job.' They can also set a filter which says, 'I'm only interested in jobs going in this direction.' That direction might be back to their home or where they're going in the work in the day. So they've got multiple ways to say whether or not they want to do that particular job, and there's no penalty if they don't.

Finally, with regard to termination—

CHAIR: I suppose deactivating the account is related to that.

Mr Rohrsheim : Sure. We operate in a highly regulated space now. Having fought for, and now having, regulations, we operate under those regulations in each state. Many of those regulations relate to safety, and there are requirements on Uber. When we are notified of A, B or C, we are compelled to remove access to the platform as soon as we receive that. It could be the police, it could be the transport authorities or it could be a complaint from a rider, in which case, of course, we will get in contact with the driver and get in contact with the rider and hear both sides of the story. Safety, I hope the committee is happy to hear, is a priority of ours, and when it's in doubt drivers will lose their access to the platform. If their vehicle inspection is out of date, they lose access to the platform. If their drivers licence is out of date, they lose access to the platform. The terms and conditions of what is considered acceptable and not acceptable are outlined in community guidelines, which every driver can see. They're online; everyone in this committee could see them.

Some other issues that might be relevant include discrimination. If we hear reports of drivers refusing service to individuals with service animals, which is against our community guidelines, they will lose access to our platform. They might be free to use someone else's. These are the regulations and community expectations that surround us, and we're implementing them.

CHAIR: In essence, having gone through them one by one, do you reject the argument that you have the level of control over the drivers that some people say you do?

Mr Rohrsheim : I'd have to hear the specific allegations, but I'd emphasise again: these drivers can log on whenever they want, they can go wherever they want, they can accept or reject the requests. If they're doing something that's unsafe, they will lose access to the platform. If they're driving too many hours in an unsafe way, they'll lose access to the platform. They are terms and conditions, as opposed to me waking up and saying, 'Mate, this is what you've got to do today.'

CHAIR: Two other things have been specifically raised—and, again, it's not just in relation to Uber; it's about the digital platforms in general. First, there isn't a minimum rate of pay. Whether it be on an hourly basis or whatever, there's no guaranteed minimum income that, in your case, drivers obtain. Second, disciplinary action can be taken against a driver—or insert here another type of digital worker—without any redress or recourse. Why is it that it's reasonable for people who are operating under digital platforms to not have those basic guarantees?

Mr Rohrsheim : Again, it's worth remembering how they earn. They have their own operation and they're remunerated when they drive someone from A to B. From time to time I have heard claims of individuals claiming to be on a platform for X number of hours and earning some amount which doesn't add up to be a minimum wage. What we don't know is where they were and what time they were logged on. If you're in the food delivery space and you log on at 11 pm until 5 am it's not going to be a busy time. If you log on at dinnertime you're going to earn a lot more. I also don't know if they accepted or rejected the request that came their way.

I also don't know—and this would be a real challenge for the committee if you do turn your mind to the idea of implementing a minimum wage in some way—if these individuals are logged on to multiple platforms at once and doing multiple tasks at once. They could be logged on to Uber and, as the previous witness mentioned, Taxify—which is also coming in to offer jobs. If they're logged on to multiple platforms at once I'm not sure how you could piece together a defined wage. And if you did you'd probably have say, 'Alright, if we're talking about hourly earnings now we need to do a minimum of 60 minutes on the platform,' and that might not be the flexibility that some people want. Then it might mean that they can only work on one platform at a time rather than two.

CHAIR: You would have ways of monitoring all of those kinds of things, though, wouldn't you? You would have ways of monitoring whether people had declined jobs, are having a coffee break or are logged on to multiple platforms and, therefore, they get a share of an income.

Mr Rohrsheim : We can infer things but I—

CHAIR: My impression of your technology is very high.

Mr Rohrsheim : Those would be guesses at best, and the reasons for someone not accepting trips are many. Certainly it is very clear that they are free to use multiple apps. That keeps me honest every morning. It's in our best interests to keep 80,000 drivers happy and for that to grow to 90,000. So we have no incentives for deactivating individuals. We only make money when they're making money. Likewise, that competition then means that if they're not earning enough on Uber they've got another platform to try out, and someone else trying to offer them a better deal, and we compete against all other work that they might be doing. There are a lot of individuals that are running their own small businesses—wedding planners, photographers and what have you—and they are only doing Uber if it's superior to their alternatives. As I mentioned, there are 80,000 drivers, and none of them are compelled to log on to work, and they'll only do so if we're offering them something that works for them.

I am sure a few of them are unhappy. If I told you 80,000 people were 100 per cent happy you wouldn't believe me. We are very available to speak to them. They can contact us through the app. They can visit us in person. We are frequently holding roundtables in their communities to hear from them. We often invite the local MP to meet their constituents. We want to hear from them and make sure it's working for them.

CHAIR: What about the disciplinary measures? Why is it that drivers shouldn't have some level of recourse if disciplinary action is taken against them, whether it be as a result of consumer ratings or other reasons?

Mr Rohrsheim : We'll always want to hear their side of the story to the extent that there's a disagreement over the facts. Our community guidelines are published and that's the contract that we have entered into with these drivers. If we're not holding up our side of the bargain they've got avenues, as with any other contract.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: If someone uses the Uber platform to pick them up every morning at 9 o'clock to take them into the city, are you saying that that driver could eventually say, 'Forget Uber; I'll just come and pick you up and you pay me a different price'? Is that possible?

Mr Rohrsheim : Of course—it's typical. That might happen with new drivers who are new to the industry. It was very typical when we first showed up—and is still. A meaningful number of the drivers using the Uber platform are professional taxi drivers and limo drivers and we're their source of extra income. They log on when they don't have their own private clients.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I noticed in your submission you talk about Peter in Point Cook in Victoria, who was apparently deaf. He couldn't get a job and lacked confidence because he was deaf. How does someone like that operate within the Uber system? Do you tell them what they can't hear?

Mr Rohrsheim : This is something that happened organically. We found that there were deaf drivers signing up and using the Uber platform, and they spoke to us and said: 'Hey, look, there's a few small things you could do that would make this work very, very well for us. It's already working, but it could be even better.' It was as simple as this. When a passenger requested a ride and was matched with Peter, and he's nominated as being deaf or hard of hearing, the app for the passenger would tell them so. It would say: 'Senator, you're riding with Peter; he's deaf. Please enter your destination so that can be passed through to him on the map, and here is a heads-up that it's not going to be a super chatty ride.' It's remarkable—you hear stories of people suddenly logging onto their phone and looking up sign language and making the most of the trip. Here in New South Wales, if you want to be a taxi driver, you will not be given a taxi driver licence if you are deaf. So that was work that was not available to them. This is one example of how technology has meant that this is now something they can do. They've got the destination up in front, no money needs to change hands—it's handled automatically for them—and they can text back and forth in the app if they need to.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Not being specific about whether 'Peter' is a real name or a pseudonym, is that checked with the road traffic authorities? I don't know this, but I'm suggesting some people might say, 'If you can't hear, you can't hear the fire brigade trying to get past you and you won't pull you over at the side of the road so it can pass.' Are the authorities quite happy with disabled people taking these sort of public transport roles?

Mr Rohrsheim : It's a legitimate question. There is a very simple threshold here: do they have a driver's licence from the road transport authority? Sometimes the vehicle will have some modification, so there will be conditions attached to that licence and their vehicle will have to meet those standard. But the standard here is that the road traffic authority says, 'This person can drive a vehicle with four doors and four wheels.'

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Again, I'm concentrating on this one particular incident, but it could be across a broader range, I guess. Do you know if there is any difference according to the road traffic authorities between driving yourself and driving a paying passenger?

Mr Rohrsheim : If there were, it would appear in the commercial passenger transport acts and regulations. Let me put it this way: we wouldn't be doing it if it weren't compliant.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: All right. You've probably read some of the submissions. Most of the objections to what you're doing are naturally enough from the unions looking after their members. Did you have any sort of particular comment about that?

Mr Rohrsheim : I'm happy to answer any specific question that they put to us. We obviously acknowledge the freedom of association. There are groups that have popped up here and there representing this new category of Uber driver, and we do meet with them and hear their concerns. Our preferred way is to meet one on one. These 80,000 drivers have 80,000 stories, and so they've got 80,000 different questions. I have hundreds of employees in Australia who are here to hear those concerns and address them one on one, in person or over the phone.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I've got a couple of statistical questions which you're more than welcome to take on notice so we can get through them. You've got 80,000 drivers; is that correct?

Mr Rohrsheim : Yes, some 80,000 will have driven in the last few months.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: And the maximum number of hours they can drive per day is 12, yes?

Mr Rohrsheim : There are features within the app that monitor the—

Senator STEELE-JOHN: That prohibit you at 12.

Mr Rohrsheim : That's right.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: So you presumably track them up to 12?

Mr Rohrsheim : If they exceed those safe hourly limits, they won't be able to log on.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Would you be able to provide to the committee figures around the number of your drivers who drive up to the 12-hour limit per day?

Mr Rohrsheim : I'm not sure we're in a rush to hand over the personal information of all of the 80,000 drivers. Could you be more specific?

Senator STEELE-JOHN: I'm trying to get an idea of how many hours per day, on average, an Uber driver works.

Mr Rohrsheim : It will be a low number. What I do know is that almost half of them do fewer than 10 hours a week.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: A week or a day?

Mr Rohrsheim : Per week. This is reflecting the part-time nature of this activity. Almost half the drivers do fewer than 10 hours per week. It is often supplementary income and they often have some other nine-to-five job. For the vast majority, it's incremental. If that average is 10 per week, then per day we're looking at a smaller number.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Could we have the figures for the other 50 per cent? It sounds like you have that information somewhere, so would you be able to provide it? I'm trying to get a handle on how much an average Uber driver makes in a week.

Mr Rohrsheim : I understand where you're heading with this, but there is no average. There is such a wide range of different circumstances for these drivers using the Uber app. You might find drivers are logged on and we could furnish the number of hours, but we wouldn't know whether they're sitting at home, whether they're sitting at the beach, whether they're accepting all the requests or whether they are logged on at a busy time or a quiet time. An average number would not be of much value to the committee.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Would you be able to tell me what the average take-up rate is of requests?

Mr Rohrsheim : It's not at the top of my mind.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: You can look into it and get back to me. You put to the committee the idea that Uber drivers are free to do a couple of jobs in the middle of their lunch break and then go back to whatever they were doing. I'm wondering, beyond anecdotes, what evidence exists for drivers who use your platform in that way. Do you see what I'm saying?

Mr Rohrsheim : What we've submitted to the committee is that nearly half of the drivers are using the app for fewer than 10 hours a week.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: But beyond what you've submitted regarding what that 50 per cent is doing, what's going on with the other 50 per cent?

Mr Rohrsheim : There are 80,000 different stories. What I would recommend is taking some trips with the drivers and hearing it firsthand.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: That is what's informing my line of question. I do. I've talked with them extensively and have not yet met one who uses your platform in that way.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: In what way?

Senator STEELE-JOHN: In a kind of part-time fashion. Do you ever take Ubers? It doesn't matter. This is a side conversation.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: No, I don't.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: If you could provide any additional information to the committee about the patterns of usage of your drivers, that would be of great use.

CHAIR: There was the question about average rates of pay. I take the point that every driver is different. Some do two hours a month and some possibly do 12 hours a day. I think you said it's not possible to calculate an average. That can't be right. You must be able to calculate an average. It's then for us to bear in mind that it is only an average and that there are people at either end of the spectrum as well.

Mr Rohrsheim : What you have to look out for, though, is that we're only aware of what they're doing through the Uber platform. We don't know what else they're doing at the same time, as sophisticated as our technology is.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: That's all we want to know.

Mr Rohrsheim : We don't know. They could be logged on to GoCatch at the same time and they could be—

Senator STEELE-JOHN: They could be, but they also might not be. You're not from those other apps. We're asking you about your drivers' interaction with your platform.

Mr Rohrsheim : We're happy to look at any further information we could provide.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Lovely.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: If it's possible, could you tell us: of your top 10 per cent of users, what hours do they do? You might have that statistic—that might be more helpful—or a figure, whether it's 10 per cent or 20 per cent. Of the top 10 per cent of users of your platform, how many hours do they work, on average? That might give us a better idea. Mind you, just answering Senator Steele-John's earlier question: I've used Uber only once in my life—not for any particular reason—which was quite satisfactory. So I'm no experienced user, but it seemed to be okay.

Mr Rohrsheim : We'll see what we can do.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: When Uber first launched in Australia, if I understand it correctly, the platform's cut from the overall pay to the driver was 22 per cent; is that correct?

Mr Rohrsheim : Twenty per cent.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Twenty per cent? It gradually moved from 20 per cent to, I think, where it sits now, at 27.5 per cent?

Mr Rohrsheim : Yes: 25 per cent plus GST.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Yes. Could you give us an idea, as a committee, of what factors drove that increase from 20 per cent to 27 per cent?

Mr Rohrsheim : Sure. When I started the business down here in 2012 we knew very little. But on day one we had to set a price, and that was 20 per cent on that day. We know a lot more about how to run the business now and we're spending a lot more, particularly since we've entered the ridesharing business, which is new. When we began, it was just with limousine drivers, taxi drivers, and a lot of the costs were borne by that operator. They obviously had their own vehicles but they also had licences from the state and they had insurance that they had to pay to the state. In the UberX world, in the ridesharing world, there are new costs on the Uber platform. Many states have brought in platform fees that we have to pay. In some cases they've brought in levies—taxation—insurance fees and what have you. Our costs have certainly gone up over the last five years, so that increase reflects our costs growing—and our investment growing, substantially.

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Thank you for that. Just finally, as a person with a disability who's had reason to use your app in the past, I've never understood the point in the Uber Access portion of the app, to be honest, because the same thing seems to arrive whether I order it through Uber Access or whether I order it through UberX. And that's a common experience that my friends in the community have passed on to me. Beyond the work around accessibility for the blind and hard of hearing community, what steps is the platform taking to ensure that there is a diversity of forms of transport, including accessible forms of transport? You'd be aware that at the moment most of that is serviced through maxi taxis, which come through your more traditional forms of taxi company.

Mr Rohrsheim : Absolutely. We are quite proud of the work we're doing in this space, and most of it's been proactive. Starting from where you ended, with regard to the maxi taxis: in all states, as I still understand it, there are taxi subsidy schemes in place, and at this stage taxis have the exclusive right to service and make use of those government subsidies, so that does explain a lot of their market share.

With regard to the Uber Access product you mentioned, it is the existing vehicles, UberX vehicles, but we've got a subset of them that are larger and easier to access and have boots that are big enough for foldable wheelchairs. This is not a product that works for the full roll in and fasten wheelchairs, but these are vehicles that are larger and whose drivers have been through some specific training. I think the Australia Network on Disability put together a training program to help those drivers work with all sorts of different individuals. So it is the same vehicles, a subset of the vehicles, but the drivers have been through certain training and they are typically the highest-rated drivers. So when you press the Uber Access button that's what you're getting, and I hope they've been of good service.

We have been piloting a fully wheelchair accessible solution in Newcastle—at our expense, with no government subsidies—to prove that the technology can work, and we hope that in the future the government's funds might be made available to us as well to expand that into more places.

Senator PATRICK: Short and sharp questions. How many employees does Uber have in Australia?

Mr Rohrsheim : About 300.

Senator PATRICK: Revenue?

Mr Rohrsheim : Ah—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Anything that is commercial in confidence is something that you are not really obliged to answer to this committee on.

Senator PATRICK: I'm happy for a rough order.

Mr Rohrsheim : As an Australian taxpayer, this is on the record in our tax files. Those are available to the public and so I think the committee would be able to get its hands on them.

Senator PATRICK: Can you provide it to us or not, knowing it's public?

Mr Rohrsheim : I'd prefer not to. I don't see how it's strictly necessary to interest in the future of work.

Senator PATRICK: Okay—

CHAIR: One of our terms of reference—I can't remember the exact wording—picks up the impact of different working arrangements on policies and on the government generally, the idea being that depending on how work is arranged can have some impacts on the social security system, on superannuation and on the tax system. So we have deliberately kept the terms of reference quite broad. And it is not all that uncommon for committees to ask witnesses to provide documentation, including stuff that's on the public record.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: But this is your own income you're asking about, isn't it?

Senator PATRICK: I'm not asking about his personal income, no.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: No, the Uber organisation, a company.

Mr Rohrsheim : I'm happy to resubmit our tax returns for the committee—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: With due respect to the chair, what you tell the committee is entirely up to you. You're not under any obligation to. I think that some things are beyond the call of a Senate committee—inquiring into a person's or a company's private life that is already public. Anyhow, that's a matter for you.

Mr Rohrsheim : I know that in different forums some have levelled accusations that Uber might not pay its fair share of tax, but these tax returns will clarify that.

Senator PATRICK: Well, here is an opportunity for you to dispel that!

Mr Rohrsheim : The tax returns will dispel that. The most important thing to emphasise, though, is that whilst we are getting our 20 or 25 per cent, which may or may not cover our costs, the other 70 to 80 per cent stays with the driver and stays in the community. I think that has been a huge economic opportunity.

Senator PATRICK: Do you have any related entities? Is it only just the one entity or—

Mr Rohrsheim : There are several entities that we operate. You can imagine that a ride-sharing business is a little different to the food business, so there are multiple entities in Australia. But they are all Australian businesses.

Senator PATRICK: Okay. Are they holding companies of some sort?

Mr Rohrsheim : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: That leads to a question we raised in the committee earlier, about deeming and the way in which the tax office will treat a person who only has one source of income. Often, the tax office will rule that someone who might otherwise be operating as a contractor is an employee in circumstances where their only income comes from one source. Have you had any interactions with the tax office in relation to that?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Would you have, if you weren't a contractor?

Mr Rohrsheim : There have been interactions with the Australian Taxation Office on this. Actually, they were quite reactive. They were one of the first entities, recognising that they are not the Fair Work Commissioner or anybody like that. They did take a position very early on that said, 'Hey, in our instructions to Uber drivers,' which was a new group of individuals, 'they need to get an ABN and we don't think they are employees of Uber.' Again, that will be somewhere on their website as their instructions to these drivers.

Senator PATRICK: That was their finding. This question perhaps is looking more at the consumers. I note that you have requirements for your drivers to provide you with a licence—that's clear. Insurance: does the insurance they provide you with cover commercial operations or is there a requirement for there to be some sort of commercial insurance as opposed to just a regular vehicle insurance? And there is the same question, I guess, in terms of registration.

Mr Rohrsheim : Yes. Each state has a certain requirement, but the answer is yes. As a condition of becoming a ride-share driver, some states have said, 'Hey, that's a different category of use, therefore you need to change your registration.' Often that includes a higher fee and mostly that is in order to make a bigger contribution to the CTP—the compulsory third-party insurance—to make sure that scheme is fully funded for all the risks. So, yes, each driver is required to have the appropriate registration for that state, recognising the commercial activity. Furthermore, Uber also holds contingent liability, $20 million, in the event that that driver's own insurance, for whatever reason, doesn't pay up, but that is not generally how CTP schemes work. They are pretty good at paying out. We have another $20 million in place.

Senator PATRICK: In terms of things like vicarious liability, I understand your proposition is that they are not employees. Just from a public interest perspective: when someone is picked up by a driver and something happens to them and their insurance doesn't cover that, do you have an insurance that would cover those circumstances?

Mr Rohrsheim : The $20 million of coverage that Uber has does also cover third party—so the passengers in the vehicle or anybody else. If there is something above and beyond a motor vehicle accident, that's what it's there for.

Senator PATRICK: But for a motor vehicle accident—because that's probably the most likely thing that's going to happen?

Mr Rohrsheim : In which case it would be covered by the state CTP scheme.

Senator PATRICK: CTP doesn't necessarily cover—that covers personal injury for—

Mr Rohrsheim : We may be getting a bit more technical than I know, but if it's an accident on the road—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What sort of injury are you interested in, if it's not personal injury?

Senator PATRICK: Clearly it would be a medical coverage; I am just making sure that the right insurances are in place if someone is hurt as a result of a driver—perhaps a third party but maybe a driver that you have engaged—causing an accident and a person gets hurt. I'm just wondering how you look after coverage in those circumstances.

Mr Rohrsheim : I'll emphasise that we are a regulated entity and these drivers are operating in commercial activities with licences provided by the states. As part of those regulations, the states were pretty keen to ensure that background checks were being done, vehicles were being inspected and the right level of insurance was in place. This was pretty much the core of the regulations. You don't need to take my word for it. The states have had a look at it and said, 'If you're going to do this, this is the kind of insurance we want in place.'

Senator PATRICK: What sort of compliance checking do you do inside your own organisation? For example, in South Australia you don't require a pink slip as you might here in New South Wales. Maybe the vehicle is not up to scratch. What level of checking do you do on that?

Mr Rohrsheim : I was in South Australia last week, and each vehicle providing ridesharing has a blue sticker on the front of it denoting that it has been specifically inspected to a higher standard for commercial transportation.

Senator PATRICK: That's one of your requirements?

Mr Rohrsheim : It's the state's requirement and therefore it's also ours. As you mentioned, when they sign up they need to hand over these documents. In states where there is an electronic register where we can verify in real time that it is still current and has not been revoked, we will do so. We are very eager for governments to make that sort of information available so that we can check these things in real time.

Senator PATRICK: So in some sense you do take a certain level of responsibility. When I seek to obtain an Uber service, I'm dealing with your entity, not the driver. The consumer might consider you to be the provider of the service.

Mr Rohrsheim : There is no doubt that, when people are unhappy, they often come to us first. Whilst we are not driving the vehicle, we don't own the vehicle and we're not driving you from A to B, we're certainly very interested that it is a safe experience. As I mentioned earlier, with regard to deactivations from the platform, one of the highest priorities is, if any conditions are not being met—insurance or what have you—we act accordingly, not just under the legislation but under our own emphasis on safety. That's a priority for us and we are proud of it.

CHAIR: I think we're going to need to leave it there. We have run a bit over time. Obviously we can put some questions on notice if anyone would like to do that. We do appreciate your coming in today. You are the only digital platform operator who has come to the inquiry, so you've obviously been taking questions beyond your own brief, but it is really helpful to have your evidence as we think about where to go with this.

Mr Rohrsheim : I imagine this is the beginning of a journey for the committee and for us. As I mentioned, I've worked with governments in many states before to come together for something that works for the whole industry, and I think we've got a good track record there, so we're keen to be part of the conversation.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: This is an inquiry into future work and workers; it's not really an inquiry into Uber. You might be mistaken when you leave here to think that perhaps it was a different enquiry, but it is about future work.

CHAIR: If you wanted to add to your submission, there is one thing I didn't get to ask about. I was interested in your position on portable benefits, and I see that that is something your American CEO has been doing some work on. If there is anything further that you'd like to add for the committee's consideration on that, we'd be keen to see that as well.

Mr Rohrsheim : Australia-specific suggestions, yes.

CHAIR: Thanks, and thanks for your time.