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Uber side-stepped Swiss rules, says whistleblower

A former top lobbyist for Uber says the firm wilfully ignored regulations when it began operating in Switzerland in 2013. Uber says it has since updated its working model.

By choosing to act first and apologise later in implementing its gig-economy model, Uber “massively undermined” democracy in many countries, including Switzerland, former lobbyist Mark MacGann told Tamedia newspapers on Saturday.

MacGann was Uber’s chief lobbyist in Europe between 2014 and 2016 before leaving and later becoming a whistleblower; last year he was at the source of the large-scale “Uber files” investigation published by The Guardian.

He says Uber knew of the Swiss rules regarding social security and employment law, but chose to “discard them”. The company knew it would only be profitable if it followed its model of viewing drivers as independent workers rather than registered employees, MacGann said.

In its investigation on Saturday, the Tamedia newspapers also report on the large PR campaign rolled out by Uber to promote its business model to local politicians, officials, journalists, scientists and even police officers.

Under scrutiny

Uber replied to the newspapers that it was aware it had made mistakes in the past, and that it would not try to justify them. However, in recent years its practices have “radically changed” in order to adapt to Swiss regulations.

“We now place great emphasis on being a reliable and trustworthy partner for the cities and municipalities in which we operate,” it said.

Since setting up in Switzerland, the company has come under scrutiny from traditional taxi drivers, policymakers and courts, particularly in the bigger cities of Geneva and Zurich. After a Federal Court decision last summer labelled the US firm as an employer rather than a mere platform – in canton Geneva – Uber announced it would roll out a “dual model” system giving drivers the option of remaining independent or becoming employees of a subcontracting company.

The firm also agreed to pay out CHF35 million ($37 million) in backdated social security and compensation to drivers in Geneva.

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

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SWI – the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Since 1999, has fulfilled the federal government’s mandate to distribute information about Switzerland internationally, supplementing the online offerings of the radio and television stations of the SBC. Today, the international service is directed above all at an international audience interested in Switzerland, as well as at Swiss citizens living abroad.
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