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Uber Eats delivery staff in Japan form labor union

Staff in Japan for ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc.'s food delivery service form a labor union on Oct. 3, 2019, demanding to be treated as employees rather than independent contractors. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Staff in Japan for ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc.'s food delivery service formed a labor union Thursday, demanding to be treated as employees rather than independent contractors.

Uber and another ride-hailing operator Lyft Inc. have faced criticism for not providing their contract workers, or "platformers," with insurance for accident compensation and other benefits enjoyed by regular workers.

"We would like to improve the working environment for Uber Eats delivery staff through negotiations," Tomio Maeba, 29-year-old chairman of the union, said in a press conference in Tokyo, also attended by a dozen contract workers.

The union wants the company to be aware of their disadvantageous working environment and aims to secure "safer and more stable working conditions for all platform workers," he said.

The union also plans to request the Japanese unit of the U.S. company to ensure fair treatment among delivery riders and review how distance-based wages are set.

Delivery staff using bicycles and motorcycles are directed by the company to pick up food and beverages at restaurants through Uber Eats' application.

Yoshihiko Kawakami, a lawyer supporting the union, said the company should accept the labor union's request in compliance with the Japanese labor union law.

Separately, an Uber Eats spokeswoman told Kyodo News, "We will sincerely address delivery partners' needs while always seeking a better way for them."

Uber has said it will introduce an injury compensation program for delivery staff in Japan from Oct. 1 in cooperation with Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co.

The company said it will pay all insurance fees, and up to 10 million yen ($93,000) will be paid in case of death.

In Japan, more than three million people are estimated to be working as freelancers, including contractors, according to recent government data.

The Japanese government is considering submitting a bill to the Diet next year to protect freelancers from being treated disadvantageously.

In California, legislators passed a bill last month that demands companies treat contract workers as employees from January if firms control staff's tasks as part of their regular business.

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