Embattled ride-hailing app Uber told an employment appeals tribunal in London today that it's not part of the gig economy - but its drivers are self-empoyed and not workers entitled to benefits.
The company is appealing a previous ruling from the tribunal which found that the US firm had obligations to treat drivers as employees and grant them rights such as holiday pay. Employment experts estimated this could cost Uber more than £17m.
At the beginning of the appeal hearing, which will continue tomorrow, Uber said its drivers were self-employed and worked the same way as those at long-established local taxi firms. The self-employed are entitled to only basic protections such as health and safety.
“The position of drivers who use the App is materially identical to the (familiar and long-established) position of self-employed private hire drivers who operate under the auspices of traditional minicab firms,” Uber said in its court submission.
Uber was granted leave to appeal this decision in April, and a spokesperson said at the time: "“Almost all taxi and private hire drivers in the UK have been self-employed for decades and with Uber they have more control over what they do.
"Licensed drivers who use our app are totally free to choose if, when and where they drive with no shifts, minimum hours or uniforms. The vast majority of drivers who use Uber tell us they want to remain their own boss as that’s the main reason why they signed up to us in the first place."
The appeal comes at a bad time for the ride-hailing firm - after recently losing founder and chief exec Travis Kalanick in a scandal-prompted management reshuffle, last week TfL said it would not renew Uber's operating licence when it expires this weekend, leaving the company with another appeal on the horizon.
“It’s been incredible seeing the such a spike in corporate booking over the last couple of days,” said Matteo de Renzi, managing director of Gett UK. Gett said since Friday afternoon it has seen a 300 per cent increase in enquiries for corporations wanting to talk about business travel services.
Addison Lee said its app had been downloaded 18,000 times last weekend, compared to 6,430 the weekend before –almost a 300 per cent rise.
However, an Uber spokesperson confirmed to City A.M. today that it has not lost any business accounts since last week.