uber driver rare job for hardup french suburban youth
Last Updated : GMT 07:25:12
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today
Last Updated : GMT 07:25:12
Arab Today, arab today

With the prospect of work luring thousands of drivers

Uber driver: rare job for hard-up French suburban youth

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Uber driver: rare job for hard-up French suburban youth

With unemployment in Aubervilliers, a Paris suburb
Aubervilliers - Arab Today

Maligned by leftist French politicians as a symbol of the jobbing economy, Uber is making inroads in high-rise Paris suburbs, with the prospect of work luring thousands of young drivers despite difficult conditions.

On a freezing afternoon in January a line of young men stretched out of the door at an Uber driver centre in the tough suburb of Aubervilliers, northeast of Paris.

Around 800 people visit the centre a day, according to Uber, many seeking information on how to become a driver for the ride-hailing app in one of its biggest markets.

With unemployment in Aubervilliers running at around 25 percent, Uber and other ride-hailing apps offer rare prospects for those prepared to work between 10 and 15 hours a day.

"A lot of friends of mine have no degree. They have nothing. Here they don't ask for anything. We show our criminal record, our ID and that's it," said Riyad Boumendjel, a 23-year-old driver with an angular soccer-player haircut.

Boumendjel delivers meals for Uber's takeaway food business, UberEats. 

Like many suburban youths with names that hint at immigrant origins, he says he faces discrimination when applying for regular jobs.

Being his own boss allows him to avoid bias from employers, even if it means putting in long hours to make a decent buck -- a fact that sparked protests and blockades by Uber drivers in December.

- Route out of the 'hood' -

Yanis, a 25-year-old father of two, also credits Uber with giving him a break, seeing driving as a chance "to try to make a living the legal way".

Yanis works for one of the thousands of companies that have sprung up in the Paris suburbs to supply chauffeurs for Uber and competitors such as Chauffeur Prive and SnapCar.

For the first six months he spent up to 20 hours a day on the road to earn just 1,500 euros a month ($1,600 dollars), only fractionally more than the minimum wage.

Since then he has switched to another limousine company and is happier with his lot.

"If I met the head of Uber, I'd thank him. It's because of him that I'm no longer stuck in my 'hood," he said, asking that his full name be withheld for fear of being targeted by Uber critics.

A survey carried out by Uber last year among 1,500 drivers showed that 39 percent were previously unemployed and that 41 percent did not have a high-school diploma.

Not all drivers are singing Uber's praises, however, with disaffection growing over its pricing policy and conditions.

Devrim Omurca, a self-employed driver with a five-star Uber rating, says he works seven days a week to pay the bills with what's left after Uber's 25-percent cut.

"You have to do 65 hours minimum. That's too much. I don't see my family very much and it takes a toll on your health," said 40-year-old Omurca, whose wife is expecting their second child. 

- Love/hate affair -

France's relationship with Uber has been a love/hate affair since the US upstart burst onto the scene a few years ago, throwing the taxi industry into turmoil.

In 2014, the French parliament banned the low-cost UberPop service that used non-professional drivers.

French authorities have also taken legal action against Uber for treating its drivers as "partners" rather than employees with contracts, thereby skirting France's strict labour laws.

But the French travelling public has taken to Uber with gusto, lured by its competitive pricing, ease of use and the courtesy of its drivers, who are beholden to customer ratings.

Entrepreneurs in the run-down northern Paris suburbs have jumped on the bandwagon, with 2,003 companies set up to serve Uber and its competitors in 2015 -- everything from car leasing to insurance and driver training academies.

But the influx of drivers onto the market has made it harder for each to earn a decent wage.

In December, chauffeurs blockaded roads around Paris for a week complaining Uber was running them into the ground. 

Thibaud Simphal, Uber's Regional General Manager for Western Europe, said the company was working to improve the situation and to help drivers optimise their business.

"It's not the only sector where independent workers are working very long hours for something that feels like low pay. But that is always better than no job," he argued.

Fathi Tlili, a councillor in Aubervilliers in charge of local business, acknowledged that Uber was helping local youths find work and, with it, a sense of dignity.

But he also appealed to Uber to give its drivers more support.

"It has to be a win-win situation," he said.

Source: AFP

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