Uber drivers are not self-employed and should be paid the “national living wage”, a UK employment court has ruled in a landmark case which could affect tens of thousands of workers in the gig economy.
The ride-hailing app could now be open to claims from all of its 40,000 drivers in the UK, who are currently not entitled to holiday pay, pensions or other workers’ rights. Uber immediately said it would appeal against the ruling.
Employment experts said other firms with large self-employed workforces could now face scrutiny of their working practices and the UK’s biggest union, Unite, announced it was setting up a new unit to pursue cases of bogus self-employment.
Friday’s ruling by a London employment tribunal involves a case taken by two drivers, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, on behalf of a group 19 Uber workers who argued that they were employed by the San Francisco-based firm, rather than working for themselves.
At a hearing in July, Farrar told how he was put under “tremendous pressure” to work long hours and accept jobs and said that there were “repercussions” from the company if he cancelled a pickup. He said some months he earned as little as £5 an hour – far below the £7.20 that employers are obliged to pay workers aged over 25.
Uber argued that it was a technology firm not a transport business and that its drivers were independent self-employed contractors who could choose where and when they worked.
The judges were scathing about Uber’s arguments, however, accusing the firm of “resorting in its documentation to fictions, twisted language and even brand new terminology” and even quoting Hamlet to suggest that the group’s UK boss was protesting too much about its position.
Legislative measures in Malta to avoid this abuse were taken as far back as 2012. There is a legal notice (44/2012) specifically dealing with this issue.