Australian Taxi Drivers Sue Uber Over Wages They Say Its Arrival Cost Them

SYDNEY, Australia — Taxi drivers in Australia are suing Uber over lost income, just days before the ride-sharing giant’s stock begins trading publicly in the United States.

In a class-action lawsuit filed on Friday, more than 6,000 taxi, limousine and other types of drivers claim that they were hurt financially by Uber’s 2012 arrival in the country, their lawyers said.

The drivers contend that Uber is operating illegally in Australia because it started its business before receiving regulatory approval.

While other ride-hailing companies waited for legislative approval before setting up business, said Rod Barton, a former driver and one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit, “Uber just jumped in, boots and all, ignoring the law and eroding the value of a multibillion-dollar national industry.”

The drivers are seeking to recover income they say they lost as a result of Uber’s entry into the market and an accompanying loss in the value of their commercial driving licenses. Mr. Barton estimated the amount at hundreds of millions of Australian dollars.

“It is not acceptable for a business to place itself above the law and operate illegally to the disadvantage of others,” Andrew Watson, a lawyer with the firm Maurice Blackburn, which is representing the drivers, said in a statement.

“We’ve got a strong case, a strong team and substantial support from thousands of drivers, operators and license owners nationwide,” he added.

An Uber spokeswoman said the company had not been served with a claim and denied operating illegally in Australia. Any claim making that assertion, she said, would be “vigorously defended.”

Uber shares are expected to begin trading publicly next week, and the company expects to be worth as much as $91 billion when the selling begins, making its initial public offering one of the largest in the history of the technology industry.

Uber recently settled a long-running legal battle with drivers in California and Massachusetts, who wanted it to recognize them as employees. The company agreed to pay the drivers $20 million without changing their status as independent contractors. In 2016, Uber agreed to pay $28.5 million to settle a class-action suit in the United States that challenged the company’s claims that its background checks for drivers were “industry leading.”

Maurice Blackburn, the law firm, said it had filed the suit as a class action in the Supreme Court in the state of Victoria. Plaintiffs in Australia do not have to be certified as a class by a court before a class action can proceed, as they do in the United States. A court can still decide whether a class-action suit makes sense for the parties involved, and the defendant can challenge class-action status in court.

Mr. Barton, a former driver for hire and now a representative to the Victorian Legislative Council as a member of the Transport Matters political party, told reporters that he and one other driver had begun planning for the legal battle three years ago.

“People have lost their jobs, their incomes, their businesses, and they have faced extreme financial hardship,” he said in a statement. “The pressure on taxi and hire car operators and their families has been immense.”

“Sadly, in some cases the pressure has been too much, and we’ve lost lives,” he added.

More than 3.8 million people regularly use Uber in Australia for rides or food delivery, and more than 80,000 drivers and delivery partners are associated with its platforms, the company said.

In the past, various state governments in Australia have sought to deregulate the taxi industry and provide traditional taxi drivers some sort of compensation. New South Wales offered a $250 million “industry adjustment package” to compensate drivers. In Western Australia, a new tax was introduced to finance a taxi plate buyback program. In Victoria, taxi drivers staged protests in 2017 that caused peak-hour chaos as the government moved to abolish taxi licenses.

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