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Category Archives: Business

New Zealand happy to forget the UK’s ‘betrayal’

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The UK joined the then European Economic Community in 1973, before voters agreed in a 1975 referendum that it should remain

It was a story of break-up and betrayal, and of a long-distance relationship that went sour.

It’s not a cliffhanger from Shortland Street, New Zealand’s longest-running TV soap opera, but a real-life tale of abandonment.

It happened back in January 1973 to the South Pacific nation when the UK joined the then European Economic Community (EEC), the precursor to today’s European Union.

At the time, about half of Kiwi exports were shipped 18,500 km (11,500 miles) to the UK, but access to those prized markets would effectively end as a result of the UK joining the EEC.

“It was a massive shock. It was an emotional shock for New Zealand,” says Asha Sundaram from the University of Auckland.

“Almost 50% of New Zealand exports went to the UK at the time, and so there was huge anxiety about what would happen.

“Essentially New Zealand was like an outpost of Britain [back then]. It was this parent-child relationship, and I think people were just terrified of the apron strings being cut off.

“I think it was probably panic.”

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New Zealand is today a major exporter of wine to the UK

In 1973, colour TV was being beamed into Kiwi living rooms for the first time (in time for another royal wedding, that of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips) while Wellington’s opposition to French nuclear testing in the region was intensifying.

The UK’s attempts to be a part of the EEC had been a long-time coming, but when it finally happened there was a sense in New Zealand of being sold-out by an old friend.

“I do think there was a sense of betrayal, particularly among older New Zealanders,” says Stephen Jacobi, executive director of the New Zealand International Business Forum.

“I myself was born in Britain, so my family emigrated from Britain to New Zealand. It is hard to think of Britain as a foreign country.

“We were conceived as a farm for Britain. That was our rationale for existence in the world order as it was.”

Fast-forward 45 years and the Kiwi economy has been transformed.

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Lamb exports are still big business for New Zealand

Free trade agreements with Australia, China (in 2008) and others have been critical. So were the bold reforms beginning in the 1980s that opened up an ailing “fortress economy” that had been highly protected.

“New Zealand was the first country to do a high quality free trade deal with China,” says Catherine Beard, head of Export NZ, a lobby and advocacy group.

“We’ve taken a really principled approach to trade, so we reduced all the tariffs in New Zealand many years ago, we don’t have subsidies.

“And we don’t have any kind of smoke and mirror support for companies domestically, and the ones that survived have thrived.

“Our industry is actually remarkably robust, and so are our farmers because they have always had to be globally competitive without support.”

Farming is important to New Zealand, as are forestry and fishing, along with the services sector, tourism and education.

As Brexit draws closer, are there important lessons for the UK in its former colony’s economic revival? New Zealand’s journey since the early 1970s has been turbulent at times, and tough decisions have been made along the way.

A nimble, creative and diversified economy is key, as is the endeavour to find new markets.

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New Zealand now has a modern economy

In an ultra-competitive world, Kiwi exporters must always be on top of their game, according to Peter Busfield, who represents the marine industry.

“We are a long, long way from any markets, we’re really at the end of a no-exit street as far as the world is concerned,” he says.

“We’ve got to go out and introduce ourselves to the various markets, and have a value proposition that satisfies those customers more so than them buying from their next-door neighbouring country.

“So New Zealand always has to perform outstandingly well to break into any market.”

Global Trade

More from the BBC’s series taking an international perspective on trade:

Today Australia buys more Kiwi exports than anyone else, while China makes up about 20% of New Zealand’s overseas trade. The UK now accounts for just 3%, which is worth 1.6bn New Zealand dollars ($1.1bn; £830m).

New Zealand’s exports to the UK largely comprise meat, beverages and fruit, and there is appetite for a New Zealand-UK free trade agreement.

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There are about 30 million sheep in New Zealand

“While Britain is…not a major trade partner for New Zealand, it still is a very important investment partner,” says Mr Jacobi.

“Britain is the third largest investor in New Zealand after the United States and Australia, so the relationship is still very significant. What we have now, maybe, is an opportunity to bring it up to date and place it more in the 21st Century.”

Four-and-a-half decades after a nasty divorce the UK is reaching out to New Zealand again. The irony of this volte-face isn’t lost on many Kiwis, but you’ll find few here who still bear a grudge.

A NZ-UK trade deal will be a priority for post-Brexit UK, according to Theresa May’s government. As it looks for new partners, a faraway friend it spurned in the past could perhaps help it embrace the challenges ahead.

Comcast in ‘advanced stages’ of 21st Century Fox bid

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Cable TV giant Comcast says it is considering a takeover offer for Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, setting the stage for showdown with Walt Disney.

Disney has agreed to pay $52.4bn for Fox, but Comcast said it was in the “advanced stages” of preparing a better bid.

Any offer would be “all-cash and at a premium” to Disney’s all-share offer, oComcast said in a statement.

But the US firm, which owns NBC, said no final decision has been made.

Rumours about Comcast’s interests in Fox have circulated for weeks, but it is the first time it has confirmed its intentions.

Like Disney, it wants to buy all of Fox’s assets except its news channel and main sports and business networks.

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Fox is controlled by Rupert Murdoch

That would include the 20th Century Fox film studio, the Fox television network and the Asian pay-TV network Star TV.

It would also include a 39% stake in Sky, for which Comcast tabled a separate bid in April, taking it into direct conflict with Fox, which wants to acquire the British broadcaster outright.

Regulatory scrutiny

Any takeover attempt by Comcast would be likely to face regulatory scrutiny, as will Disney’s offer.

In Comcast’s case, the US government is currently suing to block a merger between its parent company, Time Warner, and the telecoms giant AT&T.

Experts say the firm would be unlikely to proceed with an offer for Fox until a judge rules on that case in June.

However, in its statement, Comcast promised to pay a significant break fee should regulators scupper a deal. It said this “would be at least as favourable to Fox shareholders” as Disney’s offer of $2.5bn.

The fight for 21st Century Fox comes as traditional media groups scramble to consolidate in the face mounting competition from online challengers like Netflix and Amazon.

It has driven broadcast giant CBS to try to merge with Viacom, which owns the MTV and Nickelodeon television stations.

It has also spurred AT&T’s $85.4bn offer for Time Warner, whose other assets include pay TV channel HBO.

However, analysts believe such tie ups will face close scrutiny from US regulators who fear consolidation could drive up prices for consumers.

Water resistant sunscreen claims ‘meaningless’, says Which?

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Water-resistant sunscreen products work much less well after they have been worn in the sea, a consumer group has warned ahead of the summer holiday season.

Which? tested two products claiming to be water resistant and found the sun protection factor (SPF) dropped by up to 59% after 40 minutes in salt water.

Cancer Research UK welcomed the study, warning no sunscreen is 100% effective.

But a group representing sunscreen makers called the research alarmist.

Current UK tests allow manufacturers to claim a sunscreen is water resistant if the SPF drops by as much as 50% after two 20-minute periods of immersion.

The tests are carried out using tap water.

However, Which? said its more rigorous tests in salt water, chlorinated water and fast moving water – conditions typically found on holidays – exposed “serious flaws” in the testing regime.

It said the SPF of one well-known international sunscreen dived by 59% after 40 minutes of immersion.

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And a popular own-branded product fell by 34%.

“In reality, sun protection is likely to drop even further – factors such as reflection from water, heat, light, sweat, towelling and rubbing all reduce the protection of sunscreens,” Which? said.

Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight is the main preventable cause of skin cancer, according to the charity Cancer Research UK.

However, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) said Which?’s findings were flawed and consumers should have confidence in water-resistant sunscreens.

Its director-general Dr Chris Flower, a chartered biologist, said current testing methods worked well.

“In fact an SPF 30 product will stop approximately 96% of UV rays reaching the skin and after robust water resistance testing the product will still filter out at least 93% of the sun’s UV rays,” he said.

“This is clearly not the dramatic reduction in efficacy that Which? implies.”

Which? called for tougher regulation like those in the US and Australia, where the SPF on a product’s label must be the SPF it provides after immersion.

It added that UK water-resistance tests were “unrealistic to the point of being meaningless”.

Cancer Research UK says it is essential when using sunscreen to put plenty of it on “to get the protection listed on the bottle”.

It advises holidaymakers to:

  • Reapply creams regularly
  • Cool off in the shade rather than rely on sunscreen alone
  • Protect skin with a T-shirt and a hat

Paddy Power Betfair buys fantasy sports site Fan Duel

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Gambling firm Paddy Power Betfair has agreed to merge with the US fantasy sports betting site Fan Duel.

It wants to target the US sports betting market that is set to open up after a court decision.

In May, the US Supreme Court overturned 1992 legislation that banned sports betting in most states.

Fan Duel allows sports fans to gamble on fantasy sports leagues and contests in American sports.

The deal

Under the agreement, Paddy Power Betfair will throw in its existing US assets worth $612m along with $158m of cash to take a 61% stake in the combined business.

Existing Fan Duel investors will own 39%.

The Dublin-based company will control the business, which will become a subsidiary.

Paddy Power Betfair boss Peter Jackson said the combination would create the “largest online business” in the US gambling industry.

“[We will have] a large sports-focused customer base and an extensive nationwide footprint,” he said.

The punters

Fan Duel lets its customers bet on fantasy sport games, based around NFL American Football, NBA basketball, MLB baseball and NHL ice hockey.

There are an estimated 30 million adult fantasy sports players in North America.

Users pick fantasy sports teams using a fantasy budget, and play head-to-head or multi-player contests online.

Players pay an entry fee for each contest and compete for cash prizes.

The landscape

Paddy Power Betfair entered the US fantasy sports market last year with the acquisition of Draft, a US fantasy sports site, for $48m (£35m).

The Dublin-based firm already has a US division, which includes the TVG Network, a horseracing TV channel and an online betting network which is active in 35 states.

Paddy Power also has an online casino and a horseracing betting exchange in the state of New Jersey.

Under the terms of the latest deal, Paddy Power can increase its stake in Fan Duel to 80% after three years and 100% after five years.

The deal is expected to close in the third quarter this year.

New whisky distillery in Moray ‘like nothing else’

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The new distillery on the Easter Elchies estate in Speyside

A new landmark whisky distillery is “like nothing else in the world”, according to the man responsible for one of the premium brands it will make.

Scott McCroskie, the head of The Macallan brand, said the Speyside building was an “incredible” space.

Edrington, the firm that owns Macallan, has taken the risk of closing down its old distillery.

It has created an entirely new one less than 500m (547 yards) away, with precise copies of old copper stills.

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The stills were hand crafted by local coppersmiths

The new distillery, on the Easter Elchies estate near Craigellachie in Moray, has been camouflaged under a vast turf roof, to blend in with the rolling hillside.

It is believed to be the most expensive in the country, going 40% over budget, with a total cost for the production facility and visitor centre of £140m.

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The ceiling consists of 2,500 panels, few of them the same

The roof, with 10cm (4in) depth of turf and meadow flowers, covers 14,000 sq m.

Underneath are ventilation, vapour control, flexible waterproofing and irrigation systems.

Under those is a complex ceiling structure comprising 2,500 panels, few of them the same.

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The distillery blends into the Speyside scenery

The building was the subject of an international design competition won by Graham Stirk of Rogers, Stirk, Harbour & Partners.

His inspiration for the different-sized mounds on the landscaped roof were Scotland’s ancient brochs.

Mr McCroskie said: “When you see the distillery, you will see it is like nothing else on Speyside, arguably like nothing else in the world.”

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Aerial view of the new distillery on the Easter Elchies estate

The builder was Robertson Construction of Elgin, with 400 people working on the project.

It has taken three and a half years to build, excavating earth from a former barley field.

The design integrates the visitor experience with the production facility.

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The new distillery at night time

Small tour groups will be taken round six “pillars” of whisky-making, including cask cooperage and maturation.

The distilling process can be controlled by only two people, while the boost to employment is in the visitor centre.

Sixty additional people are being employed, as Edrington expects a near doubling of first year visitors, from the 17,000 who looked over the old distillery last year.

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The visitor experience is an important part of the new building

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The distillery visitor centre is an important part of the design

A restaurant is also being opened on site.

The old building is to become a “ghost distillery”, retaining its copper stills.

Keen to ensure consistency between the established Macallan single malt and the newly-produced casks, Forsyth’s coppersmiths of Rothes produced precise replicas.

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The new stills and the engineering underneath them

Production began in November, and the company claims results so far are strongly consistent.

A lot rides on them being right, as Macallan is sold at premium prices on its provenance and consistency.

On Friday in Hong Kong, a 1986 bottling of 60-year-old malt from its Speyside distillery twice smashed the record for a single bottle of auctioned whisky, first at £750,000 and later the same day at £814,000.

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Among Scotch single malts, Macallan has leading positions in the USA, Taiwan and Japan.

The £140m cost of the new distillery is part of a £500m spend on building Macallan over 12 years.

It will have one-third extra production capacity, and extra warehousing has been built.

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Mr Curle said the distillery was first and foremost an industrial plant

Ian Curle, chief executive of Glasgow-based Edrington, said the building was a “statement” of the company’s ambition.

He said he did not think the expansion was a gamble, more an educated view of the trends which were seeing more affluent consumers around the world adopting an appetite for premium goods.

Mr Curle said: “We have gone to enormous lengths to ensure that the newly-produced spirit is identical.

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The view from a walkway leading to the entrance

“We took a death mask of the existing stills and made exact replicas of those.

“The water source remains the same, the barley is the same.

“We have gone through extensive testing as we commissioned the plants.

“And of course the casks we bring in from Spain are just the same.”

Visitor centres

The distillery opens to the public on 2 June.

A tour will cost £15, in guided groups of up to 12, and recorded explanations in nine languages.

The focus on distillery visitor centres has grown rapidly in recent years.

Also on Speyside, William Grant & Son was among the first to see the potential with expansion of the Glenfiddich centre.

In April, industry giant Diageo announced plans to invest £150m in its distillery visitor centres, including a major new Johnnie Walker building in Edinburgh.

Its 12 existing centres saw a 15% rise in visitors last year to 440,000.

Data distilled

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  • The distillery and visitor centre cost £140m – part of a £500m investment in Macallan over 12 years
  • The building is 120m (394ft) long by 68m (223ft) and with a height of 18m (59ft)
  • The roof has 1,800 beams and 2,500 panels, comprising 380,000 components. Few panels are the same
  • On top is a 14,000 square metre “meadow”, and inspired by Scotland’s ancient brochs
  • It has a single mash tun, 21 stainless steel washbacks, 12 wash stills and 24 spirit stills
  • The Macallan distillery dates back to 1824, though the name has been used since the 1890s
  • Edrington, its owner, also produces Famous Grouse, Highland Park and Cutty Sark.
  • Its dividends are paid into the Robertson Trust, set up by the three sisters who had inherited the firm, and the trust has paid £250m in charitable donations since 1961

Housing market continues to cool

The pace of growth for UK house prices has continued to slow, while property in London had the weakest growth since 2009, official figures showed.

The capital had the lowest annual growth, where prices decreased by 0.7%.

The Office for National Statistics said in a blog that the decline in London can be linked to changes for stamp duty as well as the Brexit vote.

These factors have put off foreign buyers and seen net migration to the city fall, the ONS said.

London has seen a fall in demand since mid-2016, when the rate of price growth first started to slow down, said the ONS’s Kishan Rana.

Stamp duty reforms and tax changes have contributed to price rises for buy-to-let mortgages, while “perceptions of the future value of London property have been adversely affected” by Brexit uncertainty, he said.

“Halfway through that year, the UK voted to leave the European Union – this may have deterred foreign buyers, not only from the EU but also further afield. For Europeans, there has simply been a fall in demand as net migration from these countries has fallen.”

In the year to March, average house prices across the UK increased by 4.2% to £224,000, the ONS said. This was £9,000 higher than in March 2017.

The annual growth rate slowed from a 4.4% rise in February. Compared with February, prices decreased by 0.2%, or £500.

London continued to be the region with the highest average house price, at £472,000.

Jonathan Hopper, managing director of Garrington Property Finders, said: “London is paying a painfully high price for its stellar run of price rises, and a correction is now under way in several parts of the capital.

“While London contains a tapestry of micromarkets – variously going up, down and sideways – the headline figure is a wake-up call for both sellers and buyers.”

In England, house prices increased by 4% in the year to March, reaching an average £241,000.

The East of England had the highest annual house price growth, with prices increasing by 5.8% annually.

This was followed by the East Midlands, which saw a 5.6% increase.

Wales saw house prices increase by 3.5% over the previous 12 months to reach £153,000.

In Scotland, the average price increased by 6.7% over the year to stand at £146,000.

The average price in Northern Ireland was £130,000, an annual increase of 4.2%.

Where can I afford to live?

Turkish lira dives against the dollar

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The Turkish lira has fallen more than 5% to hit a record low against the US dollar.

The currency has lost more than a fifth of its value this year as fears grow that the government might undermine the powers of Turkey’s central bank.

Many investors want to see a rise in interest rates to bring down inflation, which is in double figures.

However, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described himself as an “enemy of interest rates”.

Mr Erdogan said he plans to take more control of the country’s finances after a general election on 24 June.

His deputy Bekir Bozdag has implied that foreign powers were to blame for the lira’s collapse.

“The people have seen the game and the player, the people have seen the puppet and puppeteers. They will not allow them or give an opportunity,” he said.

Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said the lira’s current level was “abnormal”, but added that, as yet, no permanent damage had been done to the economy.

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls himself an “enemy of interest rates”

The lira fell as low as 4.8450 against the dollar early on Wednesday before recovering slightly.

Peter Dixon, an economist at Commerzbank, said investors were concerned about the amount of financial power that could end up in Mr Edogan’s hands.

“I think markets are beginning to take fright at the extent of government interference over certainly central bank policy,” he said.

“That’s certainly been one of the factors which has caused the lira to lose ground. It’s been a trend which has been ongoing for some time, but I think the rhetoric is being cranked up now.”

The next meeting of Turkey’s central bank is not due to be held until 7 June, but some economists believe an emergency – and significant – increase in rates is essential.

William Jackson, emerging markets economist at Capital Economics in London, said it seems “highly likely that they’ll take action”.

The central bank needed to raise rates by between 2 and 3 percentage points to give some support to the lira, he said.

Such a rise would be many times larger than the changes to rates usually made by central banks.

Jaguar Land Rover profits fall as sales slow

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Jaguar Land Rover has reported a drop in profits after slower sales growth and rising business investment.

Annual pre-tax profits fell to £1.5bn from £1.6bn the year before, and fourth quarter profits almost halved from £676m to £364m.

Annual sales grew 1.7%, helped by strong demand in China.

But it blamed a sharp fall in UK sales on “consumer uncertainty surrounding diesel models, Brexit and vehicle taxation”.

UK sales dropped 12.8% to 108,759 cars, while European sales also fell.

However, overall car sales in the year to 31 March increased 1.7% to 614,309 cars compared with the previous year.

That is a sharp slowdown in growth from 2016/17 when overall sales grew 15.8%.

China was a bright spot last year. Sales there jumped 19.9%, while North American and sales grew 4.7%.

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New tech

Jaguar Land Rover chief executive Ralf Speth said: “Strong demand in our key overseas markets has offset the challenging conditions in the UK and other parts of Europe.”

He said that heavy investment in “new vehicles, manufacturing facilities and next-generation automotive technologies” will continue.

In April, the firm said it would shed 1,000 contract staff at two UK factories after uncertainty over Brexit and changes to taxes on diesel cars.

Jaguar Land Rover, which is the UK’s biggest carmaker, is owned by India’s Tata Motors.

The Indian car giant said its fourth quarter net profit had halved to 21.25 billion rupees (£233.25m, $310.74m), from 42.96 billion rupees a year earlier, missing analyst expectations.

“In the near-term, the challenges of market, technology and geo-political uncertainties are likely to persist,” Tata Motors Chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran said in a statement.

M&S boss says firm too ‘inward looking’ and ‘corporate’

The chief executive of Marks and Spencer says the company’s culture has been too “inward looking” and “corporate”.

Steve Rowe also said the retailer had been losing younger, family-aged customers. The BBC’s Emma Simpson asked him about those sobering admissions.

Uber gives drivers sick pay and parental leave

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Casey Gutteridge / Uber

Ride hailing firm Uber will give its European drivers access to medical cover and compensation for work-related injuries.

The new protections include sick pay, parental leave and bereavement payments.

Uber said it previously “focused too much on growth and not enough on the people who made that growth possible”.

“We called drivers ‘partners’, but didn’t always act like it,” said Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi.

The insurance and compensation package will be available to all Uber drivers and Uber Eats delivery couriers across Europe.

This announcement comes before an appeal hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court on 25 June, where a judge will decide whether Transport for London (TfL) should renew Uber’s private hire operating licence in London.

TfL withdrew Uber’s operating licence in September on the grounds of “public safety and security implications”.

Uber was allowed to continue operating in the city while it appealed against the decision.

Mr Khosrowshahi said that while Uber drivers enjoyed the flexibility of part-time work, they wanted protection against unforeseen events.

“Drivers have also told us they want more security and peace of mind – life’s ups and downs such as an injury, sickness or having a baby should not come with all of the additional financial stress,” he said.

Protection for drivers

Starting from today, Uber will provide drivers with a range of insurance coverage and compensation resulting from accidents or injuries that occur while they are working, as well as protection for “major life events” that happen whether the driver is on a shift or not.

The insurance coverage for accidents occurring during rides includes:

  • Up to £7,500 reimbursement for medical costs not covered by public healthcare services
  • A £1,000 payment if the driver is hospitalised
  • An inconvenience payment of £75 a day if the driver is unable to work
  • A £50,000 accidental death payment to dependents or heirs of the driver
  • Up to £6,000 funeral costs reimbursement
  • A payment of up to £50,000 if the driver is permanently disabled

In addition, Uber drivers and Uber Eats delivery couriers who have successfully completed over 150 rides for Uber in eight weeks prior to an off-duty event are also eligible to claim for:

  • Compensation for sickness or injury leading to more than seven consecutive days of inability to work
  • A one-off payment of £1,000 to cover maternity or paternity leave
  • A £500 payment to cover jury duty

Analysis: Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent

Ever since Dara Khosrowshahi took over as CEO last August he has tried to project an image of a kinder gentler Uber – in marked contrast to the “take no prisoners” approach of his predecessor Travis Kalanick.

That conciliatory style is evident in this move which Mr Khosrowshahi paints as Uber being “a better partner” and “a better listener”.

Drivers are not going to get the kind of benefits they would enjoy as employees but there will be a little something to help them deal with life’s ups and downs. But this should all be seen in the light of the looming court hearing in late June over Uber’s licence to operate in London.

That is expected to hinge not on whether TfL was right to deny the firm a licence last year, but whether it has become a fit and proper business since then. Uber executives are hoping that its actions over the last six months will convince the court that the leopard has changed its spots.

More security welcomed

Uber drivers in the UK have been campaigning for better rights for at least three years.

In October 2016, a tribunal ruled that two UK-based Uber drivers should be classed as staff, not self-employed workers, and entitled to holiday pay, paid rest breaks and the minimum wage.

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Uber drivers have been fighting for better working conditions since 2014

Uber appealed against the decision, arguing its drivers were self employed and were under no obligation to use its booking app, but in November 2017, the Employment Tribunal upheld its original decision that any Uber driver who had the Uber app switched on was working for the company under a “worker” contract.

In the US, Uber drivers continue to fight in court for the right to be classed as workers.

As of March, Uber drivers in the US can now opt into an insurance programme that covers all rides across the country.

A spokesperson Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London said: “With the expansion of the gig economy, too many Londoners still suffer from low pay, and a lack of security at work.

“Sadiq therefore welcomes any commitment to give drivers and couriers in London more security through access to sick pay, and maternity and paternity pay, and the Mayor hopes it becomes the norm across the gig economy.”