Uber drivers in Sydney and Melbourne have been temporarily suspended from the service for asking customers to wear face masks in their cars, a Senate committee has been told.
Two Uber drivers, appearing before the Senate select committee on job security on Thursday, reported having their driver accounts deactivated by Uber after customers falsely reported them for abuse or violence for enforcing the mask rules.
Lorna Berry, an Uber driver based in Melbourne, said the pandemic had “changed Uber massively”, with riders now required to wear masks, check in using QR codes, and Ubers can only take a maximum of three passengers due to social distancing requirements. These requirements had led to confrontations, Berry said.
“When you’ve asked riders to do this, they can become quite aggressive and swear and carry on and all sorts of things,” she said.
Berry said earlier this year she arrived at a job to pick up four women. When she informed them of the capacity limit and the mask requirement, she said they abused her.
After she cancelled the trip, the next day she was notified through the Uber app her account had been deactivated after someone had reported her for being “violent”.
“This, of course, was a false claim and I was horrified.”
Once access to the app is withdrawn, Berry said it is difficult for drivers to directly contact Uber, with no phone line to contact the company, and having to deal with them over email. She said it took four or five days until her account was reactivated.
“You’re left in this position now of going ‘is it safe to go back out there now?’” she said, adding it made her look for alternative work.
“Melbourne’s opened up, [and] you’re always you have every right to ask somebody to wear a mask and of course when any of these incidents happen you’re not given any details because Uber want to protect the privacy [of] riders, so it’s really frustrating.”
A Sydney-based driver, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal from Uber, told the committee he had “a constant issue” with getting riders to wear masks in his car, and had begun bringing a bag of masks with him to offer riders.
He said he once had his account deactivated after he gave a mask to a young man in his car who complained “I can’t breathe” during the ride, with the man allegedly telling Uber the driver had sworn at him.
“That was the only incident in the day – even though I didn’t know 100% – that was the only incident in the day that I could relate to as being a problem.”
He said it took several emails before his account was restored, and said the mask mandate was also causing his customer rating to drop.
“I used to be a highly rated driver until the mask mandate came in … my rating in Uber plummeted almost overnight,” he said.
Berry said her rating had also dropped because of the mask rules.
Both drivers said there was little recourse through the Uber app to contest claims made by customers, and no compensation from the company for the lost income while their accounts were deactivated over false claims.
A spokesperson for Uber said the company had reintroduced phone support for drivers who have their accounts disabled in April this year, and said riders and drivers were both able to cancel trips when the other was not wearing a mask. Those who repeatedly refuse to wear masks can be blocked from the platform.
The company was reviewing customer and driver ratings, but indicated there had been no average change in ratings since the mask mandate came into effect.