Uber drivers ruled as workers, not self-employed -- again

A mixed reaction about what a court defeat for Uber means for freelancers and the freelance work economy is prevailing.

In what critics of the ride-hailing app hailed as a “hat trick,” the Court of Appeal backed two previous tribunals in deeming its drivers as ‘workers,’ deserving of basic employment rights.  

So contrary to Uber’s claims at all three hearings that drivers are self-employed, and that it is only an agent connecting drivers with passengers, the drivers are, in fact, workers of Uber.

'Good news'

The Freelancer and Contractor Services Association, whose member firms provide services to the self-employed, said the decision represented “good news” for drivers using the app.

“Employers should not shirk their responsibilities to provide basic workers’ rights,” the FCSA said. “The [company’s] wages/commission structure does seem to result in very low pay”.

Freelance taxation firm Qdos agrees that Uber drivers need greater protection, but pointed out that not all flexible workers require rights, as they do not consider themselves as vulnerable.

'Precedent'

Nonetheless, for the rising number of ‘gig economy’ workers in the UK, the CoA ruling “could set a precedent for all individuals working this way,” said the firm’s Seb Maley.

But the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) isn’t so sure.

“The first thing to remember is this wasn’t a ruling on all self-employment or even the rest of the gig economy,” IPSE said. “This was about two drivers in particular circumstances.”

'Complex'

There appears to be much more agreement over what the case concerning drivers in London highlights. “It is important that employers carefully consider how they engage their workforce,” said the FCSA, because “employment status is complex.”

IPSE’s Andy Chamberlain confirmed: “What this latest twist in the Uber saga does show….is just how complex this area is, and how much it takes to prove who is and isn’t self-employed.”

In the case, the appeal court judges scrutinised the “practical reality” of the drivers’ relationship with Uber, who rejected that they were independent contractors contrary to what their in-place contracts stated.

'Obligation'

The judges also found that Uber had the right to disconnect drivers from the app for a period if they turned down passenger-offers too frequently, implying that the company exercised control over them.

Uber drivers believed that, in those circumstances, they were under “a positive obligation to be available for work while the app is on,” and, the judges decided, that this amounted to ‘work’.

“This is the third time that the drivers have been victorious in their fight for workers’ rights,” said law firm Leigh Day.

“But Uber has yet to give their drivers what three legal decisions have ruled they are entitled to – holiday pay and to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage.”

'Loopholes'

Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB union, said: “We’re now at a hat trick of judgments against Uber, they keep appealing and keep losing.

“Uber should just accept the verdict and stop trying to find loopholes that deprive people of their hard-won rights and hard-earned pay.”

However, Uber now has the option of taking the case further, as the Court of Appeal granted the company permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

 

9th January 2019

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