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Steve Garelick: The ‘lobus’ who took on Uber

GMB branch secretary Steve Garelick tells the JC why he took on Uber, and stopped them operating in London.

    “I do good lobus,” grins Steve Garelick.

    A branch secretary of the GMB trade union, Mr Garelick is reflecting on what drove him to take on Uber, in a landmark legal case which led to the private car hire firm losing its licence to operate in London.

    A “Jewish” sense of fairness, as well as a cheeky desire to get one over on the big boys in defence of the little man were his motivation, he decides.

    For the past six years Mr Garelick has worked unpaid for the GMB advising drivers, some in the private car hire sector, others driving private ambulances or goods lorries, who find themselves in need of advocacy.

    Without any previous experience of this type of work, Mr Garelick — who earns a living running a private hire coach company with his wife — said he has been driven by a “Jewish imperative” to “treat people how you would expect to be treated”.

    His time as a “lay member” of the GMB has coincided with the growth of the so-called “gig economy” — in which some large firms have offered workers temporary or freelance positions without traditional workplace protection or employment hours.

    “Uber is just a potential starting point,” reflects the one-time BBYO member who was raised in Southgate before moving to Golders Green. “You could also be a care-worker on zero hours or security staff or a packer at Amazon.

    “Some people say this is the free market. But the reality is it’s basically a chase to the bottom to see how little you can get people to work for.”

    Since becoming branch secretary of the union’s professional drivers branch, Mr Garelick has seen a 42 per cent rise in membership — including numerous Jewish members — in his region, which runs from Milton Keynes down to Windsor and takes in London and Essex.

    The 51-year-old says he can relate to complaints of workplace discriminatoin because he has experienced similar issues “once somebody knows you are Jewish”.

    Mr Garelick first expressed concerns about Uber’s approach to its drivers back in 2012— after raising cases with Transport For London.

    A further case in which Uber withheld information from police after a driver was assaulted by two women two and a half years ago because he was Irish convinced Mr Garelick and his GMB colleagues that a workers’ rights case could be made against the company.

    Then there were the examples of drivers who claimed they had money deducted after customers complaints were followed up by the firm, seemingly without taking into account their drivers’ evidence.

    One thing Mr Garelick won’t take on are cases in which drivers are accused of sex attacks on passengers. “I won’t defend criminality,” he says.

    He disputes Uber’s argument that the withdrawal of its licence will merely make 40,000 drivers unemployed and help prop up the “over-priced” black taxi industry.

    Uber launched an appeal last Friday against Transport for London’s decision, starting a process that will allow it to continue operating in the capital until a hearing in December.

    An Uber representative said that while it disagreed with TFL’s decision, the group “hope to continue having constructive discussions with Transport for London” over the coming weeks, adding that the appeal had been filed only so Uber could continue to operate in the capital.

    “The Uber model from my perspective is not a sound model,” insists Mr Garelick. “There’s no disputing the concept of the software they use is terrific. But they are putting consumer ahead of worker.”

    “My perspective is that I have no problem with business —- but just be ethical in your behaviour.”

    With the union also gaining a judgement against private hire Addison Lee in recent weeks — a tribunal ruled that a group of the company’s drivers were entitled to “basic workers’ rights” — Mr Garelick insists his desire to stand up for the little man is not waning.

    “We all like a bargain,” he says. “But just play by the rules.”

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