The taxi-hailing app firm, Uber, has, as expected, launched an appeal against a tribunal ruling that said its drivers should be classed as workers rather than self-employed but has chosen to overshoot the Court of Appeal and take its case directly to the higher Supreme Court.
A spokesperson for Uber said: “We have requested permission to appeal directly to the Supreme Court in order that this case can be resolved sooner rather than later”.
Apparently the company hopes the case will be considered around February next year.
The outcome, if the Supreme Court does hear the case, will be important to Uber as it has around 40,000 drivers in the UK.
Similar appeal from Pimlico Plumbers
The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear an appeal on a similar issue from Pimlico Plumbers and its founder, Charlie Mullins, on whether a tradesman was a worker or an independent contractor.
Gary Smith, a plumber, won a case in the Court of Appeal that ruled that despite being described as ‘self-employed’, he had the status of a worker which allowed him basic workplace rights like sick pay, holiday pay and the right to bring tribunal claims.
Both cases have huge implications for the many thousands of 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 – and will be followed closely by businesses, particularly as there is a growing body of case law in which judges concluded that individuals at companies like Addison Lee, Excel and Citysprint were in fact workers rather than independent contractors.
If Uber’s appeal to the Supreme Court fails, the costs for the company will increase significantly as it will have to pay drivers minimum wage and holiday pay. It will also face a higher tax bill and have to pay national insurance contributions and value-added tax.
And many believe Uber now has a very tough fight on its hands. Judge Anthony Snelson, who led the original three-person tribunal company, was critical of Uber’s claim that its drivers are self-employed.
In his ruling he said: “The notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our minds faintly ridiculous” adding that any organisation that resorted in “its documentation to fictions, twisted language and even brand new terminology, merits, we think, a degree of scepticism”.
What happens next?
The Supreme Court’s remit is to “hear appeals on arguable points of law of the greatest public importance” so next, the decision will be taken as to whether Uber’s case falls into this category which seems likely bearing in mind the case of Pimlico Plumbers has already been deemed to do so.
In arriving at any judgement, the Supreme Court will have to tackle problematic public policy questions about the type of worker UK employment law is supposed to protect and the impact such protections have on UK businesses.
Many will hope that the Supreme Court, in both these important cases, will offer clear guidance and help clarify the law in this area.
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