After a long legal battle dating back to 2016, last Friday, the 19th February 2021, Uber London lost its final appeal when the UK Supreme Court ruled that Uber drivers are indeed to be classified as ‘workers’, and not as ‘self-employed’ individuals. This of course means that the Uber workers are now entitled to minimum wage, paid vacation leave and other legal protections in the same way as their employed counterparts.
By way of background, two individuals who worked as Uber drivers initiated a case against Uber in front of the Employment Tribunal back in 2016, wherein they argued that they should not be considered as gig workers (i.e. independent contractors) but as employed individuals. These two individuals eventually won the case against the ride-hailing app in October 2016. This evidently did not go down well and Uber decided to appeal against such decision. However, the Appeals Tribunal upheld the ruling in November 2017. Following this, Uber proceeded to take the case to the Court of Appeal, which also upheld the ruling in December 2018. This eventually led to the final decision which was delivered last Friday, wherein Britain’s highest Court ruled on the last appeal and confirmed that Uber drivers are indeed to be considered as workers, and not as independent self-employed individuals.
What elements were considered during this judgement that led to the final ruling?
The following elements were considered:
- Uber set the fare and thus they dictated the amount that drivers could earn;
- Uber determined the contract terms, and the drivers had no say in this respect;
- A driver’s service rating is monitored by Uber, where Uber has the capacity to terminate the work relationship if this is not to their satisfaction and if the driver does not improve following repeated warnings – here the Court comments that this is a classic form of subordination that is a characteristic of an employment relationship; and
- Uber monitors the requests that each driver receives and may penalize the drivers if they reject too many rides.
The UK Supreme Court also raised concern in relation to how Uber strictly limits communication between the driver and passenger, requesting a ride via this app.
What was Uber’s argument?
Uber argued that it is merely a booking agent which hires self-employed contractors (also known as ‘gig workers’) that provide transport. They also argued that drivers wish to retain this employment status as independent contractors, stating that they prefer this ‘gig’ model as it is more flexible in nature.
Even though it only concerns the drivers involved in the 2016 case, this judgement has, without a doubt, set an important precedent that could affect other gig workers going forward and will hopefully bring an end to the exploitation of workers.