Economy

IPO And Beyond: How Uber Rolled Into Our Lives - A World Tour

Taxi drivers protesting against Uber in Buenos Aires
Taxi drivers protesting against Uber in Buenos Aires
Rozena Crossman

Long before Uber's multi-billion-dollar IPO, the ride-hailing app has been shaking the economic and legal foundations of the dozens of countries around the world where it's landed. Not only has it disrupted the transportation sector, but the San Francisco-based digital taxi service has introduced a whole new way for companies to deliver their services and people to seek work — in fact, we call it: uberization.

Present in 65 countries and more than 600 cities, the platform has facilitated more than five billion trips worldwide. Though the impact is indeed global, the arrival of Uber has followed a unique route in each country. By taking a ride through the company in Egypt, Argentina, the UK, the U.S., and France, we examine the effects of the gig economy that will ultimately count much more than the tens of billions that Uber is worth today.

Egypt

Egypt is Uber's largest market in the Middle East and it's about to get bigger: The company recently announced plans to buy Careem, a regional rival. But Uber is already struggling to keep its 157,000 Egyptian drivers happy. This past March, a four-day strike was organized by drivers fighting for fair pay. According to the Egyptian media Mada Masr, Uber upped commission fees from 20% to 22.5%. Drivers also have to pay VAT which, in most other freelance professions, is usually billed to the client. In addition, the Egyptian government passed a law in 2018 requiring both Uber and drivers to obtain licenses — for a fee. It's also important to note that many Egyptian drivers don't own their own cars, and thus pay loans to car owners.

Beyond money troubles, drivers in Egypt have suffered robberies at the hands of their clients, and many want Uber to help ensure their safety by having clients register their national ID number. The 2018 law on licensing did contain an amendment about the app's user data, but it had nothing to do with the security of drivers. An article from The Cairo Scene explains that ride-sharing apps are now obliged to share their customers' data with the Egyptian security forces, and can be fined up to 5 million Egyptian pounds ($290,000) if they don't. All these recent developments have made both Uber users and drivers uneasy, but tuk-tuk operators are off scot-free as they fall under the jurisdiction of their local municipality.

Argentina

Why is Argentina Uber's fastest growing market in the world even though it only operates in Buenos Aires? The answer is a little sinister. The country's growing economic tensions have boosted unemployment and slashed purchasing power: 20% of drivers were unemployed before signing up, clearly in need of quick cash. The strange thing is, Uber isn't currently making a profit in Argentina. The country's peculiar regulations around ride-sharing mean that Uber trips can only be paid in cash or foreign credit cards, making it hard for the company to impose its commission on drivers. This has caused a surge in sign-ups as, according to Uber, up to 400 new drivers enlist each day.

Uber and Lyft drivers strike in California — Photo: Scott Varley/SCNG/ZUMA

The gig economy in Argentina is booming beyond Uber, and a new union was created at the end of 2018 for delivery workers who earn their keep through apps like Rappi and Glovo (for food delivery). In the city Córdoba, a union for messengers and deliverers have even created their own platform that helps companies with logistics. As Irene Caselli wrote for the Argentine newsletter The Essential, "The twist is that the new delivery app will be made up by unionized workers, giving delivery people more benefits, such as a higher salary, health, and life insurance, annual leave and bonuses."

France

Powerful unions and long strikes are renowned traits of the French, yet their labor-law nemesis is quickly becoming an institution on their very own soil. Uber is so encrusted in the Gallic country that its secondary business, Uber Eats, has expanded to cities as small as Saint Malo, and the company rolled out a dockless electric bike and scooter share program in the Paris area this year. It looks like the gig economy is here to stay, as noted by Le Monde in a recent piece on the game-changing popularity of finding work through these platforms with French students.

But make no mistake, Uber is still experiencing setbacks. The company is trying to appeal a recent decision by a French court which ruled that a former driver was treated as more than just a freelancer and that his situation resembled that of an employee. Libération reports that a recent EU directive aimed at helping these drivers and deliverers allows them to deny work outside of their predetermined hours, and states that any training period must be paid as work time. The very companies this directive is aimed at, however, feel the EU's announcement is completely unrelated to them.

Nine out of ten drivers were immigrants, and 54% had the burden of bringing in over half of their family's income

A spokesperson from the food delivery service Deliveroo invoked the famous gig-economy claim: their deliverers were merely freelancers garnering work via their app. The European Parliament, however, begs to differ. As one representative firmly told the French paper, "A new definition of freelance workers was adopted in this legislation. It's not up to Uber or Deliveroo to decide who is a freelancer and who isn't."

United Kingdom

Two years ago, British judges made the landmark ruling that Uber drivers were not, in fact, self-employed and therefore entitled to the minimum wage. This past December, the courts refused Uber's appeal, finding contradictions in the agreement between the company and its drivers. The Guardian quoted a relatively scathing excerpt from the judgment: "For Uber to be stating to its statutory regulator that it is operating a private hire vehicle service in London and is a fit and proper person to do so, while at the same time arguing in this litigation that it is merely an affiliate of a Dutch-registered company which licenses tens of thousands of proprietors of small businesses to use its software, contributes to the air of contrivance and artificiality which pervades Uber's case."

In March, four drivers filed another lawsuit against the corporation for breaching the EU's General Data Protection Regulation. The law stipulates that all individuals have the right to access any of their personal data a company might be harboring. Uber allegedly never provided the data these drivers asked for, such as GPS data, time logged into the app, and trip ratings. These elements are crucial for drivers to be able to calculate their pay. With such an indispensable case hinging on EU regulations, one wonders what the future of British Uber will look like post-Brexit.

United States

In Uber's home and native land, a 2018 study showed that two thirds of drivers working for ride-sharing apps in New York City did so full-time, and 80% had bought cars for the express purpose of working through these platforms. According to the New York Times, "Many were in debt from those acquisitions and making very little money." Moreover, nine out of ten of these drivers were immigrants, and 54% had the burden of bringing in over half of their family's income. Soon after the study was published, the city implemented a new law capping the number of ride-share cars allowed to operate in the metropolis, and imposed minimum rates per-mile and per-minute. Across the country, San Francisco is considering putting a surcharge on ride-sharing. As New York Magazine recently argued, these municipalities have the power to do so much more, and could easily stand up for their exploited constituents by twisting Uber's arm with regulations. Although Uber began its reign in the U.S., it seems Lady Liberty has fallen behind her international counterparts when it comes to fencing this corporation in.

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Geopolitics

A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo

-Analysis-

TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.


After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

commons.wikimedia.org

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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