Photo/Illutration Members of the Uber Eats Union speak in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward on Oct. 3. (Takashi Yoshida)

Uber Eats delivery workers formed a labor union on Oct. 3, seeking to negotiate with the ride-hailing giant for improved working conditions, including having full accident insurance.

At an event marking the foundation of Uber Eats Union in Tokyo, 17 individuals with contracts with the Japanese arm of the U.S.-based Uber Technologies Inc. who deliver mainly in and around the capital gathered to become members.

"There has been no means for delivery staff to negotiate with Uber," said Tomio Maeba, 29, who serves as the union's chairperson. "I hope the union will create such an opportunity."

The 15,000 or so individuals in Japan who have signed up with Uber Japan, the operator of the door-to-door Uber Eats service, are considered private entrepreneurs and are not directly employed by Uber Japan.

Through the Uber Eats app, the so-called platformers deliver food from restaurants and other businesses using their own bicycles or motorbikes and receive delivery fees based on distance and other factors.

As they have no employment relationship with Uber, they are not covered by workers' accident compensation insurance, in principle, and have to pay out of pocket for treatment of job-related injuries.

However, such private entrepreneurs are legally allowed to organize a labor union, with the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association being an example.

A 43-year-old Uber Eats delivery worker sprained his wrist after falling off his motorbike while delivering a bento in July and had to pay more than 15,000 yen ($140) for medical treatment, he said.

"I'm happy there is a union now," the man said after becoming a member.

Many Uber Eats delivery staff have other concerns as well, such as whether the distance calculation metrics Uber uses to determine wages is accurate or not, and the possibility of having one's Uber driver account arbitrarily suspended.

In response to the mounting concerns, Uber Japan introduced a system to compensate delivery workers for on-the-job injuries with "condolence money." However, the maximum amount for treatment is 250,000 yen, unlike conventional full-coverage insurance.

A spokesperson for Uber Japan declined to comment on whether the company will engage in collective bargaining with the new labor union, saying, "We have not received formal notice (of the union's formation)."

The central government has initiated discussions on how to protect private entrepreneurs, such as Uber Eats delivery workers.

A committee of experts under the labor ministry has been discussing measures to prevent private entrepreneurs from not being paid on time. However, it has not decided when to release its determination and whether the discussion will include recommended legal reforms.

(This article was written by Takashi Yoshida and Naoko Murai.)