Uber loses appeal in landmark UK case over its drivers’ employment rights

Sam Shead
yaseen aslam

IWGB


  • Ex-Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam took Uber to court last October over their employment status and won.
  • They argued that they should be given basic worker rights such as holiday pay and national minimum wage.
  • Uber appealed the decision at an employment tribunal in London in September but the company has failed to overturn the court ruling.


Uber has failed to overturn an employment court ruling that said it must treat its drivers as workers as opposed to self-employed contractors.

The legal case against Uber was brought last October by ex-Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam. They claimed Uber was acting illegally by not giving drivers basic worker rights (such as holiday pay and the minimum wage) and won.

Uber appealed the decision at a two-day employment tribunal in September, saying that Uber acted just like traditional minicab firms. The company has always maintained that drivers who use its platform are independent contractors. It frames itself as a technology platform, connecting riders and drivers and taking a fee in the process.

uber london app

Oli Scarff/Getty ImagesJudge Jennifer Eady QC announced that she was "dismissing" the appeal in her verdict, which was summarised at an employment tribunal court in London on Thursday. 

Nigel Mackay, employment solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the drivers, said: "We are very pleased that the EAT has rejected Uber's appeal.

"We have always believed that the Employment Tribunal’s decision from last October was entirely correct in saying that our GMB member clients were entitled to workers’ right such as the minimum wage and holiday pay.

"We now hope that Uber will accept this decision, rather than seeking pursuing appeals, so that we can swiftly return to the Employment Tribunal on behalf of our GMB member clients, for the Tribunal to decide the compensation that they are entitled to."

In a statement, Uber said it plans to appeal the ruling. 

"Almost all taxi and private hire drivers have been self-employed for decades, long before our app existed," said Uber UK's acting general manager Tom Elvidge. "The main reason why drivers use Uber is because they value the freedom to choose if, when and where they drive and so we intend to appeal.

"The tribunal relies on the assertion that drivers are required to take 80% of trips sent to them when logged into the app. As drivers who use Uber know, this has never been the case in the UK.

"Over the last year we have made a number of changes to our app to give drivers even more control. We’ve also invested in things like access to illness and injury cover and we’ll keep introducing changes to make driving with Uber even better."

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The ruling could have broader implications for the gig economy

It's a major decision that could cost Uber millions of pounds and make the San Francisco-headquartered company think twice about its UK business operations. The ruling could also have ramifications for other companies operating in the UK's so-called gig economy, such as Deliveroo.

Paul Jennings, partner at Bates Wells Braithwaite, which is representing the drivers, told Business Insider that the ruling could prove to be very expensive for Uber if drivers seek to claim back pay that they may have missed out on. "It's going to cost them," he said.

Jennings added: "They've achieved market dominance at the expense of drivers. If they want to continue here they just have to accept these are the basic standards."

But Uber drivers shouldn't get too excited about the prospect of receiving standard worker benefits just yet. Uber is planning to appeal the decision, meaning that the case could end up being dragged through the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

Jenning said it's conceivable that some Uber drivers could end up being workers and some could end up being self-employed.

James and Yaseen Uber

Business Insider UK/Sam Shead"The whole thing is complicated with drivers using a multitude of apps," he said. "I think then the driver potentially moves into a self-employed space where they're marketing their services to the world through a range of portals."

There are over 1 million people working in the gig economy in the UK, according to recent government estimates.

Some of Uber's drivers, such as parents and part-time workers, enjoy the freedom and flexibility that they get by being classed as "self-employed." But many others depend on the app to make a living.

 

 

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