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Uber drivers have the same employment rights as other full-time employees in Britain, a court has ruled in a landmark decision which looks likely to send shockwaves through the nation’s so-called “gig economy.”
The ruling means that drivers are now entitled to earn the national minimum wage, holiday pay, sick pay, and other benefits, after the San Francisco-based taxi firm lost a case brought against them by two drivers backed by the GMB union. Uber had argued that it was a tech firm rather than a transport one, and that as its drivers were self-employed contractors it was not obliged to provide the kinds of statutory employment rights full-time workers would expect.
According to the GMB, the Central London Employment Tribunal’s decision will have ramifications in other industries which rely on casualised labour, and that “similar contracts masquerading as bogus self employment will all be reviewed.”
The union’s legal director Maria Ludkin said the case represented “a monumental victory” and claimed it would “have a hugely positive impact” for Uber’s drivers, of whom there are around 40,000 in Britain.
Uber drivers and other directed workers do have legal rights at work. The question for them now is how those rights are enforced in practice. The clear answer is that the workforce must combine into the GMB union to force the company to recognise these rights and to negotiate fair terms and conditions for the drivers.
For its part, Uber is sticking to its self-employment argument, and it UK general manager Jo Bertram has vowed to appeal the court’s decision. She said:
Tens of thousands of people in London drive with Uber precisely because they want to be self-employed and their own boss. The overwhelming majority of drivers who use the Uber app want to keep the freedom and flexibility of being able to drive when and where they want. While the decision of this preliminary hearing only affects two people we will be appealing it.
Enlarge / Uber’s UK manager, Jo Bertram.
Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
In the court’s ruling, however, the judges insisted that “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. Drivers do not and cannot negotiate with passengers… They are offered and accept trips strictly on Uber’s terms.” The tribunal panel reserved hefty criticism for the firm, claiming that it had used “fictions,” “twisted language,” and “brand new terminology” to hoodwink drivers and passengers alike.
The GMB meanwhile denied that the majority of Uber drivers enjoyed the “flexibility” of their current contracts. Ludkin said: “This judgement in no way affects driver flexibility, it merely guarantees them basic employment rights. Uber’s decision to appeal that is purely related to protecting their ample profits and nothing to do with protecting the drivers.”
Many tech firms rely on casual labour and the UK’s lax self-employment laws, but this ruling has opened the doors to more tribunals, including at courier firms such as CitySprint, Addison Lee, eCourier, and Excel. Deliveroo, meanwhile, embroiled in a labour dispute of its own for similar reasons, may also find itself in trouble.
As well as its appeal, Uber is currently also trying to persuade its drivers that the decision only affects the two drivers who went before the tribunal. In an e-mail sent to drivers on Friday night, Bertram wrote:
As you may be aware, earlier this year a small number of London partner-drivers brought a claim to challenge their self-employed status with Uber. Although we have today heard that this challenge has been successful at this first stage, it’s very important to note that today’s decision only affects two individuals and Uber will be appealing it.
There will be no change to your partnership with Uber in light of this decision and we will continue to support the overwhelming majority of drivers who tell us that they use the Uber app to be their own boss and choose when and where to drive.
Ludkin responded: “Even after the judge found Ms Bertram’s evidence lacked credibility and described her as ‘grimly loyal,’ she continues to try and advance a misleading and false set of facts. The Uber judgment applies to 40,000 UK drivers, not two. Ms Bertram might be wise to think how this judgment reflects on her before she issues any more statements.”
This post originated on Ars Technica UK