Uber offices

Uber drivers are not “self-employed” but workers with full rights, according to the UK Supreme Court.

The decision – hailed as an “emphatic victory” by the App Drivers and Couriers’ Union (ACDU) – means that Uber must treat its workers as having full employment rights.

Six justices unanimously handed down the decision this morning (Friday 19 February), dismissing Uber’s appeal against the ruling of a previous employment tribunal.

Former drivers Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar had won an employment tribunal in 2016 declaring them and 35 other colleagues to be “employees” not “self-employed”. Uber then lost an Employment Tribunal Appeal in 2017 and then again at High Court in 2018.

Aslam, who is also ADCU President, commented: “I am overjoyed and greatly relieved by this decision which will bring relief to so many workers in the gig economy who so desperately need it.”

The ruling means Uber has a responsibility to its drivers under the Employment Rights Act, the National Minimum Wage Act, and the Working Time Regulations Act. It could also set a significant legal precedent for workers in other sections of the “gig-economy”.

Trade Union Congress General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said today that “no company is above the law”. She said the news was “a huge win for gig workers and common decency”.

In their verdict, the justices criticised the contract Uber forced on drivers as “[having] as their object precluding a driver from claiming rights conferred on workers by applicable legislation”.

The Court went on to say: “laws such as the National Minimum Wage Act were manifestly enacted to protect those whom Parliament considers to be in need of protection and not just those who are designated by their employer as qualifying for it.”

Professor Jeff Kenner of the University of Nottingham’s School of Law Department and an expert on labour law, posted on Twitter today that the ruling shows “it is wrong to treat the written agreements between the parties as the starting point in deciding whether an individual as a “worker”.

Kenner went to list several “facts”, which can be used to show Uber has an effective contract with its drivers – such as limiting their contact with customers and rating their performance. As with a normal employment contract, poor performance can lead to losing work.

Farrar, who is ADCU General-Secretary said the ruling will “fundamentally reorder” precarious work. “Uber drivers are cruelly sold a false dream of endless flexibility and entrepreneurial freedom. The reality has been illegally low pay, dangerously long hours and intense digital surveillance”, he said.

The ADCU have said that 94% of private hire drivers are from BAME background in London and a 71% live in the city’s most deprived areas.

Last week, Uber forced Google to remove a tool that allowed drivers to figure out if Uber had underpaid them.

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Image credit: Elliott Brown – Creative Commons