Industrial Relations

Uber is trying to make tipping work in Australia — and it’s making people mad

Matthew Elmas /

US-headquartered Uber wants to make tipping work in Australia.

The ride-sharing giant pushed an update to both it’s Uber and Uber Eats applications yesterday, enabling the tipping functionality for Australian users.

The feature is nothing the company doesn’t already offer overseas, but, perhaps predictably, news of an American business trying to export the American custom Down Under went down like a lead balloon online.

“This will, of course, enable Uber to further exploit its employees by shifting the blame for not earning enough onto the workers themselves,” one Reddit user said in a popular thread which received thousands of upvotes on Thursday evening.

“I don’t get tipped for closing helpdesk tickets with flair. Tipping is crap. Employers should just pay their employees a fair wage and if that means putting the price up then so what? It’s worked here forever,” another said.

Pouring fuel on the fire, Uber has previously been criticised for the pay and conditions it offers to Australian drivers.

Uber has a sub-contractor arrangement with its drivers, which has sparked an ongoing debate about labour casualisation in recent years.

In August last year, drivers across the country stopped work in protest of Uber’s pay and conditions, calling for it to axe a decision to move to up-front pricing and instead go back to charging for time and distance travelled.

“No need for tipping”

Tipping is additional revenue for drivers, however, the American-style custom has been interpreted as a poor substitute for actual improvements to driver pay.

“We strongly believe if they were paying a fair and sustainable rate there would be no need for tipping,” Les Johnson, secretary of the Ride Sharing Drivers Association, tells SmartCompany.

Johnson says drivers were not consulted on the introduction of tipping, a habit for Uber, he claims, citing its overnight implementation of a driver pay cut several years ago.

Back in 2016, Uber cut the per-kilometre rate for UberX drivers to $1 in most jurisdictions, and while there have been subsequent increases since then, Johnson says it’s not enough.

Some drivers also expressed concern on social media the introduction of tipping will result in a flurry of new drivers joining the platform trying to make a quick buck.

“There’s already an over-saturation of drivers in every jurisdiction in Australia currently,” Johnson says.

“They’re destroying industries to make themselves look good.”

‘Showing appreciation’

A spokesperson for Uber said it has “often heard” from drivers and customers asking for an “opportunity to show their appreciation for great service”.

“Driver and delivery partners often go the extra mile to offer exceptional service, but until now there wasn’t an option for riders and eaters to reward this other than providing a five-star rating with compliments on Uber or thumbs-up on Uber Eats,” the spokesperson said.

“This is a small step we’re taking to help riders and eaters celebrate the driver partners and delivery partners who go the extra mile in their own special ways, via an easy and meaningful way to say ‘cheers’ for a job well done.”

Australia’s industrial relations landscape varies greatly to that in the US and other markets, with modern awards enshrining relatively high minimum pay rates.

Uber and competitor Deliveroo have worked around this by employing drivers as sub-contractors, but this has drawn criticism from unions, who claim the platforms are exploiting workers.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) has been particularly critical, claiming drivers aren’t paid enough and suffer from poor working conditions. The union held a summit earlier this month in Canberra to discuss how the gig economy could be worked into a new “legislative framework”.

“Tipping should never be an excuse to justify cutting wages or avoid paying the entitlements that every Australian worker deserves,” TWU Queensland said via social media yesterday.

“It’s just not Australian.”

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany. You can contact him at [email protected].

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