finance

Uber loses Supreme Court appeal on classing drivers as workers



Supreme Court justices have ruled against Uber and concluded that drivers should be classed as workers, not independent third-party contractors.

A ruling was delivered today on the latest round of a long-running fight between Uber operating companies and drivers.

One Justice, Lord Leggatt, stated: “I think it clear that the employment tribunal was entitled to find that the claimant drivers were ‘workers’.”

Lawyers said drivers will now be entitled to basic rights, such as paid holidays, and the ruling will have implications for others working in the gig economy.

Mark Cairns, an Uber driver in London for five years, responded: “Being an Uber driver can be stressful – they can ban you from driving for them at the drop of a hat and there’s no appeal process.

“At the very least, we should have the same rights as any other workers and I’m very glad I’m part of the claim.”

Uber operating companies had appealed to the Supreme Court after losing three earlier rounds of the fight.

The case was originally brought in 2016 by a group of Uber drivers who claimed unlawful deductions in their wage through both the failure to pay the national minimum wage and failure to provide paid annual leave.

From the outset, Uber argued that it is not a direct employer, rather a technology platform which connects drivers with potential customers. As it does not provide taxi services itself, it claimed to be devoid of any employment law responsibility for those who use the app.

The case will now go back to employment tribunal to decide how much compensation drivers are entitled to. It is assumed that this will be in the region of £12,000 for each driver.

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A GMB union spokesman said the win was “historic”, urging Uber to stop pursuing lost legal causes and do what’s right by the drivers.

“GMB will now consult with our Uber driver members over their forthcoming compensation claim.”

Kirstie Beattie, senior employment solicitor at Law At Work, commented that the gig economy is a relatively new phenomenon, and the development of case law has been limited, so this is easily the most significant ruling for the sector.

“Finding in favour of the drivers, the Supreme Court has not only opened the door for drivers to claim millions of pounds in compensation, but it also has the potential to redefine the employment rights for the hundreds of thousands of workers who work in this sphere.”

By setting the journey fare, and therefore the drivers’ pay, Uber has control over the way work is carried out and essentially prevents any relationship between the driver and the customer. Its ability to impose sanctions on the drivers for rejecting hires and failing to maintain their passenger rating pointed further towards a relationship of subordination and, thereby, worker-status.

Beattie explained: “As workers, Uber drivers are now entitled to national minimum wage and paid leave – it is very likely that the same protections will also fall to those who provided delivery services for other companies like Deliveroo and Amazon depending, of course, on the relationship between them and the individuals they engage.”

Brian Campbell, legal director and employment specialist at Brodies, noted that the outcome of these claims hinged on the very specific terms that Uber used to engage its drivers.

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“However similar operators – particularly in the gig economy – will note that the significant degree of control exercised by Uber made it difficult to argue that its drivers weren’t workers in the legal sense, and that they weren’t at work when logged on and ready to take passengers.

“Every similar business should look at where it sits on that spectrum and consider whether there’s a risk of misjudging the legal status of the people it utilises.

“As highlighted by this decision, which is now final, the cost of making a wrong assessment could be significant,” he added.

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) suggested that the judgement shows the need for clarity in the gig economy and UK employment law.

IPSE director of policy Andy Chamberlain said: “The very fact this case has come to the UK’s Supreme Court shows the UK’s employment law is not working – there is a glaring need for clarity in this area, to clear the confusion in the gig economy.

“It is a patchwork of grey areas between employment and self-employment: the only way to resolve this tangle is to clarify employment status in UK law.

“With the pandemic still raging and its financial impact ever more visible, it is more urgent than ever that struggling people who should technically be classed as workers get the rights they deserve – we urge government to write a definition of self-employment into law.”

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