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Uber has lost a landmark employment tribunal case against two U.K. drivers who argued they should be treated as workers rather than self-employed contractors, reports the Guardian.
The case in question involves two drivers, Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar, who had argued at a previous tribunal that Uber was the only company they worked for, and they had no control over what pricing they could charge customers. At the July tribunal, Farrar argued:
Working for Uber is my job — I do not run a private hire business. I do not have a service company. I do not advertise ‘driving services’, I have no one working for me, I have only one car licensed with TfL [Transport for London] for private hire work and I only drive for Uber. I understand that Uber is arguing that I run my own business and that Uber is a customer of that business, but this in no way reflects the daily reality of my job. I am not sure what service Uber provides to me.
In reality, they pay me for the work I have done and keep 20 percent of what they have charged the customer … I have no ability to negotiate a different deal — I either have to accept Uber’s terms or not work as an Uber driver.
The claimants also argued that their pay often fell below the national living wage. But as with similar cases elsewhere in the world, Uber argued that it was merely a technology platform, and the drivers were independent contractors who choose when and where they work.
Having heard evidence from the claimants’ defense team and Uber during the preliminary hearing, Judge A.M. Nelson today ruled that “the Claimants were ’employed’ as ‘workers’ by the Second Respondents, Uber London Ltd, within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996, s230(3)(b), the Working Time Regulations 1998, reg 36(1) and the National Living Wage Act, s54(3).”
It’s worth noting here that the result of this case only impacts the two drivers in question, as the ruling was specific to the named individuals’ circumstances, but in effect it means that they are now entitled to paid holidays, rest breaks, and the national minimum wage. Taking a broader look at the ruling, however, it may open the floodgates for similar claims from Uber’s 40,000 U.K.-based drivers. Moreover, it also shines a spotlight on other so-called “gig economy” companies, including heavily VC-funded Deliveroo, that use a similar technology platform to join the dots between consumers and service providers.
In a statement provided to VentureBeat, Uber confirmed it would be appealing today’s decision, and maintained that most drivers are happy with the current “flexible” working conditions the company affords.
“Tens of thousands of people in London drive with Uber precisely because they want to be self-employed and their own boss,” said Jo Bertram, regional general manager of Uber in the U.K. “The overwhelming majority of drivers who use the Uber app want to keep the freedom and flexibility of being able to drive when and where they want. While the decision of this preliminary hearing only affects two people we will be appealing it.”
Uber has faced similar battles in its native U.S., and last year the California Employment Development Department (EDD) ruled that a former Uber driver was an employee, not a contractor. Uber settled a subsequent class action lawsuit that spanned across California and Massachusetts, meaning that drivers would retain their contractor status in those states. However, the door remains open for challenges across the country in the future.
Today’s news comes two months after Uber won the right to challenge the English-language test requirement for U.K. drivers.
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