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Uber drivers must be treated as workers rather than self-employed, the UK’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The decision could mean thousands of Uber drivers are entitled to minimum wage and holiday pay in the future and some will be entitled to payments that they should have received in the past. The decision may also have implications for other areas of the Gig economy.

In a long-running legal battle, Uber had finally appealed to the Supreme Court after losing three earlier rounds.


What’s the background to the ruling?

Former Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam took Uber to an employment tribunal in 2016, arguing they worked for Uber. Uber said its drivers were self employed and it therefore was not responsible for paying any minimum wage nor holiday pay.

Uber appealed against the employment tribunal decision but the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the ruling in November 2017. The company then took the case to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the ruling in December 2018. The ruling on Friday was Uber’s last appeal, as the Supreme Court is Britain’s highest court, and it has the final say on legal matters.

It is likely that up to 90,000 workers who have operated through Uber since 2016 will now be able to bring claims, probably through a group action which Uber will perhaps choose to settle rather than fight old battles.


The court considered several elements in its judgement:

  • Uber set the fare which meant that they dictated how much drivers could earn
  • Uber set the contract terms and drivers had no say in them
  • Request for rides is constrained by Uber who can penalise drivers if they reject too many rides
  • Uber monitors a driver’s service through the star rating and has the capacity to terminate the relationship if after repeated warnings this does not improve.

Looking at these and other factors, the court determined that drivers were in a position of subordination to Uber where the only way they could increase their earnings would be to work longer hours.

The Supreme Court ruled that Uber has to consider its drivers “workers” from the time they log on to the app, until they log off. This is a key point because Uber drivers typically spend time waiting for people to book rides on the app.


What does this mean for the gig economy?

Every business operating in the gig economy and how they interact with their workers is different, but this ruling focuses on the control that companies exercise over people’s labour. This control also carries with it responsibilities for their conditions and wellbeing.

So it is very possible that workers at other businesses will bring similar claims to the Uber drivers, though each case will depend on it’s own facts around how the business operates.


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