Taxi owners consider law suit as Uber comes to town

By Myles Peterson

Two Shepparton taxi operators are considering joining what could become the largest civil litigation case in Australian history launched against multi-national transport business Uber.

Law firm Maurice Blackburn, which has a history of contesting large class action cases, is co-ordinating the suit.

In 2014, Maurice Blackburn successfully settled what is the biggest Australian law suit in dollar terms, a class action resulting from the devastating Black Saturday bushfires.

Shepparton taxi operators Mick Turner and Dane Hall are considering joining the new class action, despite Uber never operating in the region.

Uber has announced a push into the Shepparton market this month.

Between them, the men claim to be out of pocket to the tune of $1.3million as a result of disruption to the taxi industry Uber has caused.

‘‘We’re getting advice on it... it’s cost us $150000 a licence so far,’’ Mr Turner said.

The men claim before the entry of Uber into the Victorian market, their nine taxi plates were worth more than $250000 each.

Under changes to Victorian legislation introduced in the Commercial Passenger Vehicle Industry Bill, Mr Turner’s and Mr Hall’s licences were scrapped and they were compensated with payments of $100000 per licence.

‘‘That was our retirement. I’m not retiring to Queensland now,’’ Mr Turner said.

Maurice Blackburn senior associate Elisabeth O’Shea said taxi operators could join the class action, despite Uber never operating in their area.

‘‘It’s open to anyone in the state who thinks they’ve suffered loss. There are instances where licences may have dropped even when Uber wasn’t operating in the market at that time,’’ she said.

Ms O’Shea outlined the alleged case against Uber.

‘‘It was Uber that came in and exploited people by operating outside of regulations,’’ she said.

‘‘It was Uber’s conduct that led to decimating losses suffered by our group members and for those reasons it is the multi-billion dollar company Uber and its associated entities that we are targeting in order to provide redress to those affected.’’

The class action hinges on whether it can be proved Uber’s initial entry into Australian markets was in breach of various state regulations when it occurred.

Ms O’Shea said if Maurice Blackburn could prove Uber operated outside of the law, the taxi operators they represent may be entitled to significant compensation.

‘‘We do think this has got the potential to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars mark,’’ she said.

The class action launches as Uber comes under pressure on multiple fronts.

A November ruling from the Fair Work Commission that a Foodora delivery driver was not an independent contractor, but an employee has potential implications for the so-called ‘‘gig economy’’.

The ruling came after an earlier Fair Work Commission decision that Uber drivers were not employees.

The Transport Workers Union lashed out at Uber last week, claiming a plan of the business to provide insurance for its drivers was a smoke-screen.

‘‘This insurance announcement is a farce. The policy provides less benefits than workers compensation and won’t cover drivers when they are sick,’’ the union’s Tony Sheldon said.

‘‘Uber workers have already paid for this insurance policy millions of times over with the underpayments in wages and non-payment of superannuation the company has taken out of their pockets over the years.’’

A spokesperson for Uber said its service was valued across the country and the company was unaware of the class action.

“Over 3.8 million Australians regularly use Uber as a reliable choice to get from A to B and governments across the country have recognised ridesharing as part of the transport mix. We are focusing our efforts on delivering a great service to riders and drivers in the cities where we operate,” she said.

“Despite a number of media stories to date, we have not received any notification of a class action."