In a legal saga that has been running for more than a year, the taxi firm Uber has lost its appeal against a ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers rather than self-employed.
It is a case which has huge implications for people working in the so-called gig economy – a system of casual working which does not commit a business or a worker to set hours or rights.
Workers at couriers Citysprint, taxi firm Addison Lee and Pimlico Plumbers have already been found to be entitled to a range of employment rights. All these firms are appealing.
Last year, an employment tribunal ruled that two Uber drivers, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, were Uber staff and as such entitled to holiday pay, paid rest breaks and the minimum wage.
Even though the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has now upheld this, Uber has announced it will continue to appeal, taking its case next to either the Court of Appeal or straight to the Supreme Court.
Uber claims it’s not an employer, merely a driver’s agent
Uber has up to 50,000 drivers using its app in the UK and is fighting to hold on to its operating licence in London.
It has always argued that its drivers are neither ‘employed’ nor ‘workers’, they simply use the Uber app to be put in touch with customers who need a ride meaning the driver doesn’t actually work for Uber, Uber is just the driver’s agent.
But the EAT rejected this argument and also crucially found that a driver could be considered to be working for Uber whenever they were logged into the Uber app, within their authorised working zone and when willing and able to accept rides.
As a result, the EAT defined Uber drivers as ‘workers’ and thus entitled to employment rights.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IGWB), which pursued the case on behalf of Mr Farrar and Mr Aslam, said the latest ruling was a ‘landmark victory’ and one which proved ‘the law is clear and that these companies are simply choosing to deprive workers of their rights.’
But the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) did not agree and expressed concern that the ruling would affect the flexibility that many Uber drivers say they enjoy.
Its chief executive, Chris Bryce, said: “It is astonishing that the employment tribunal granted the two drivers worker status. A key element of being a worker is having to to turn up for work even if you don’t want to.
“This is clearly not the case with people who drive through Uber – they choose when and how long they work for by logging on or off the app.”
Whilst the battle is set to continue for the foreseeable future, clarification may ultimately come from a different source. A review of employment law commissioned by Theresa May shortly before she became Prime Minister is expected to formally recommend a series of protections for ‘gig economy’ workers with insecure jobs.
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