Uber drivers are NOT self-employed but entitled to workers' rights, says employment tribunal

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The landmark ruling could have ripple effects across the gig economy (Source: Getty)

Uber drivers are entitled to basic workers' rights, an employment tribunal announced today, in a landmark legal case.

The hearing at a London employment tribunal is the first case of its kind in the UK. The action was brought by the GMB union which represents drivers, and law firm Leigh Day.

Nigel Mackay, employment lawyer at Leigh Day, said: "We are delighted that the employment tribunal has found in favour of our clients. This judgement acknowledges the central contribution that Uber’s drivers have made to Uber’s success by confirming that its drivers are not self-employed but that they work for Uber as part of the company’s business."

Read more: Employment tribunal ruling could cost Uber more than £17m annually

Maria Ludkin, GMB's legal director, called it "a monumental victory".

She said: "This loophole that has allowed unscrupulous employers to avoid employment rights, sick pay and minimum wage for their staff and costing the government millions in lost tax revenue will now be closed."

There will now be a further hearing in the employment tribunal to calculate the holiday and pay that the drivers should receive.

Uber's appealing the judgement

Even so, Uber confirmed it would be making an appeal; a process that could take years.

Jo Bertram, regional general manager of Uber in the UK 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."

Stephanie Creed, an employment lawyer at Taylor Wessing said Uber has to lodge an appeal within 42 days and it can only appeal on a question of law. From there, it will likely be three or four months until it's heard.

Beyond that, it could go onto the Court of Appeal and even the Supreme Court. "There's potential for it to make at least the Court of Appeal," Creed told City A.M.

Self-employed status vs. workers

It has been a big debate: are Uber drivers self-employed or workers for the company?

Uber considers its drivers self-employed “partners”, while GMB has said Uber should “conform to employment law” and give its drivers rights such as minimum wage, mandatory breaks and paid leave.

The drivers' claims brought by the GMB union, were heard in July at a London employment tribunal.

Read more: All London Uber drivers will now have to prove their English skills

The judgement could have a ripple effect on other cases relating to the company – these were two test cases (there are a further 17 claims). One of the two drivers involved with today's ruling no longer does so with the Uber app. Uber says it has 40,000 drivers.

But also in setting a precedent for similar situations that crop up in the gig economy, where people opt for flexible work arrangements. In November, an employment tribunal will hear a similar case that has been taken against courier firm City Sprint by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.

The taxi-hailing company has said most drivers were happy with the arrangement; a study commissioned by the firm and carried out by ORB said just over three-quarters of 1,000 Uber drivers polled preferred being self-employed and choosing their own hours. 

 

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was "pleased that the law had been clarified" for drivers.

Tags: Uber