A landmark ruling that Uber drivers are workers rather than self-employed independent contractors should be overturned because judges have misunderstood the relationship between the company and its drivers, the Court of Appeal heard on Tuesday.
In October 2016, an employment tribunal ruled that Uber drivers were “workers” entitled to minimum wage and holiday pay, after two drivers, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, argued that the company controlled much of their work, allocating them customers and dictating the prices.
Uber appealed against the decision, but a London tribunal upheld the ruling in November last year.
The San Francisco-based company has now brought the case — seen as a major test for the “gig economy” — to the Court of Appeal, arguing that it is not an employer, but simply an agent connecting drivers with passengers.
Uber on Tuesday told the court that earlier rulings had misunderstood the nature of the relationship, with the car-booking app acting as an agent between the driver and the rider.
Dinah Rose QC, acting for Uber, said drivers had a contract with Netherlands-based Uber BV to use the Uber app, but the drivers entered into separate contracts with individual passengers when providing rides, with Uber London Ltd acting as an agent for drivers.
“The services are not performed for Uber, they are performed for the passenger,” Ms Rose told the court.
The company also said in written arguments that it was “absurd” that under the employment tribunal ruling, Uber would be required to pay its drivers the minimum wage while they were logged on to the Uber app — even if they were also simultaneously logged on to the competing apps of other operators, it argued in written submissions to the court.
“On this logic, drivers might be entitled to claim the minimum wage from two or more app operators in respect of the same period of time,” the company said.
In written arguments, Mr Farrar and Mr Aslam said such claims were “more theoretical than real”.
The hearing will span two days, but the Court of Appeal is likely to reserve its decision for several weeks.
There is a growing body of British case law in which judges have sided against companies claiming to employ individuals as independent contractors rather than workers.
Earlier this year, the UK Supreme Court ruled that a tradesman working for Pimlico Plumbers was a worker entitled to certain benefits. Cases brought by individuals against companies including Addison Lee, CitySprint and Hermes have also led to judges ruling they were “workers” rather than independent contractors.