(Updates with background)
PARIS, July 25 (Reuters) - Uber and insurance group AXA have joined forces in France to offer accident cover for drivers who work for the ride hailing service after it faced criticism over their treatment.
In France, as in other countries, Uber has been challenged by lawmakers, workers' rights advocates and the established taxi industry. They complain it is able unfairly to undercut rival services because it uses independent workers who do not enjoy the same rights and benefits as permanent employees.
The agreement announced in France on Tuesday comes on top of new benefit package schemes that have been announced in various countries in which it operates including the United States and Britain.
"This partnership will provide a safety net for the independent workers who enjoy flexible work at the touch of a button and we'll carry on listening about further improvements we can make to create the best possible experience," said Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, Uber's head of operations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
No details of the French scheme were provided except to say that the insurance would be free for drivers. A statement from the two companies said there would be further information available once the system was in place in the autumn.
Currently, self-employed drivers' compulsory insurance policies do not offer life cover. AXA said that the French protection of Uber workers would cover medical expenses, disability indemnities, and survivor benefits in case of an accident.
Across the world, large car insurers have begun rolling out coverage tailored to ride-hailing drivers.
In some places that fills a void that had existed for drivers whose personal policies do not cover trips during which they are driving passengers for pay.
In France, however, Uber services are restricted to drivers who already hold a minicab licence. Its ride-sharing arm, UbperPOP, was outlawed in 2015.
Drivers working for Uber in Britain will be able to access illness and injury cover under a new scheme run by the Association of Independent Professionals & the Self-Employed, Uber said earlier in April.
In New York, Uber holds a group ridesharing insurance policy that covers accident during a prearranged trip, but also while the driver is waiting for a trip request. The protection insurance works only when a driver is logged in to the app.
(Reporting by Andrew Callus and Maya Nikolaeva; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta/Keith Weir)