The United Kingdom's Supreme Court on Friday ruled that Uber drivers shall be considered as workers instead of self-employed. The verdict would result in thousands of Uber drivers being entitled to minimum wage and holiday pay. Former Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam filed a case against Uber in the employment tribunal in 2016, stating that they ‘worked' for Uber. Uber submitted a plea against the employment tribunal decision but the Employment Appeal Tribunal sustained the ruling in November 2017 and further appealed to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the ruling made in December 2018. It is one of the thousands of cases contending the self-employed status of the gig-economy workers against firms like Addison Lee, CitySprint, Excel and eCourier.
'I think it's a massive achievement in a way that we were able to stand up against a giant,” said Aslam, President of the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ACDU).
Uber contended that it's drivers, like several other delivery and courier companies, are self-employed ‘partners' and are thus not entitled to the basic rights of workers such as legally enforceable minimum hourly wage and a workplace pension. However, the Supreme Court deemed the attempts by organizations to draft ‘artificial' contracts to evade basic employment provisions as void and unenforceable.
'This ruling will fundamentally reorder the gig economy and bring an end to rife exploitation of workers by means of algorithmic and contract trickery. Uber drivers are cruelly sold a false dream of endless flexibility and entrepreneurial freedom. The reality has been illegally low pay, dangerously long hours and intense digital surveillance. I am delighted that workers at last have some remedy because of this ruling, but the government must urgently strengthen the law so that gig workers may also have access to sick pay and protection from unfair dismissal,” said Farrar, General Secretary of the App Drivers & Couriers Union.
The judges heavily criticized the loopholed contracts presented by Uber to their drivers saying that they ‘can be seen to have as their object precluding a driver from claiming rights conferred on workers by the applicable legislation.' The court unanimously rejected Uber's appeal of being an ‘intermediary party' and observed that drivers shall be qualified as ‘employees' not only when they are driving a passenger, but also whenever they are logged into the app. The bench considered multiple elements while pronouncing its verdict:
- Uber is in-charge of the setting the fare that decided the earning of the driver;
- Uber was the one to set the terms of the agreement with no say of the drivers;
- Uber is responsible to constrain the request of rides who can fine the drivers if they rejected multiple;
- The driver's service is overseen by Uber as per the star rating and holds the authority to terminate the agreement if the issue does not improve after several warnings.
Uber shall not be allowed to launch any further appeal against the aforesaid ruling. The case shall be reinstated to the employment tribunal to determine the compensation for workers. The law firm representing claims of over 2,000 workers related to the case, Leigh Day, observed that the amount due to each worker could be up to 12,000 pounds.
Jamie Heywood, Regional General Manager of Uber for the northern and eastern Europe said, 'We respect the court's decision which focused on a small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016. Since then, we have made some significant changes to our business, guided by drivers every step of the way. These include giving even more control over how they earn and providing new protections like free insurance in case of sickness or injury.”
This decision could alter the functioning of Uber's business in the United Kingdom, and shall be setting precedent for other workers and companies in the larger gig-economy. The verdict has been a notable defeat for Uber in UK due to the pressure from labour activists and transportation regulators. This could also land Uber with a hefty compensation bill and lead to better terms of employment for the millions working in the gig-economy.