Violent protest over Uber erupts in Paris

The ride-sharing service, Uber, is not unfamiliar with the ire of legitimate taxi drivers, but the latest in the series of strikes, which broke out in Paris, is one of the most violent ones to date.

Last Thursday, angry taxi drivers blocked roads and burned tyres, and there were reports of taxi drivers hunting down drivers whom they thought were Uber service providers. The kerfuffle brought Paris traffic to a halt and disrupted the entire city. Amidst the tense atmosphere, a few cars were burned, fights broke out, riot police fired tear gas, and all over Paris and other major French cities, travelers were left stranded.

American rock singer, Courtney Love, was attacked after leaving the airport, and tweeted: “They’ve ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage. They’re beating the cars with metal bats. This is France?? I’m safer in Baghdad.” It wasn’t clear whether Love was using the Uber service at that time. She was eventually ‘rescued’ by passing motorists.

Image tweeted by Love.

For some of the taxi drivers, their qualms were with the government whom they believed were not stepping up to their role to protect the taxi drivers from “economic terrorism”, the term that they use to summarise Uber’s lower prices, flexible hours and it’s non-conformation with the law.

But the Interior Ministry is already filing charges against Uber as part of a nationwide clampdown on UberPOP, the French version of the mobile app; in October 2014, a French law prohibited the linking of clients with unregistered drivers – which is the gist of Uber’s service – with fines of up to €300,000 and two years imprisonment for non-registered drivers who charge a fare. Uber has been contesting the law ever since on the basis that the ruling contravenes freedom of entrepreneurship.

The company is facing harsh opposition across the world, and have even been banned outright in certain cities and countries. The California Department of Labour recently ruled that the plaintiff of a case, an Uber driver seeking compensation for business expenses, was classified as an employee and not a contractor. This sets a precedent for future cases and Uber might not be able to continue avoiding the costs associated with having employees, like state-mandated employee compensation and unemployment insurance.

Despite all its challenges, the company appears to be thriving and was recently valued to be worth about US$50 billion. It doesn’t look like Uber is going away anytime soon.

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