DEBATE: Was the tribunal right to rule that Uber drivers are workers, not self-employed?

Frank Field and Philip Salter
London Black Cab Drivers Protest Against Uber
Source: Getty

DEBATE: Was the tribunal right to rule that Uber drivers are workers, not self-employed?

YES – Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead.

The appeal tribunal must have been trying hard not to laugh Uber out of the room last week. The idea that the company engages on level terms with tens of thousands of independent contractors who have the power to work exactly how they want has been called out for exactly what it is: bogus.

Uber sets the fares and rates of commission, with no room for drivers to negotiate. It allocates work to each driver and docks work from those whose passenger ratings dip below a certain level. Moreover, it insists that drivers must accept a certain proportion of jobs, without knowing in advance where their passengers wish to travel. Yet the company has also served up a raw deal to drivers and taxpayers, by avoiding its obligation to pay the National Living Wage, sick pay, holiday pay, National Insurance, or pension contributions.

Thankfully, the courts have called time on Uber’s exploitation of its workforce. Parliament’s job now is to change the law to better protect all vulnerable workers in similar situations.

NO – Philip Salter, director of The Entrepreneurs Network

The decision of whether to grant worker status to Uber drivers will be decided in the ongoing court battles, but if the result undermines the flexibility of platforms like Uber, it will be a mistake.

Uber drivers have a lot more freedom than regular cab drivers, and survey after survey of Uber drivers show the vast majority value the flexibility of being able to work when they want. This includes IPSE’s 5,500 driver members, who constantly report that a key benefit of Uber is the flexibility of being self-employed. And an overwhelming majority of drivers state that they would recommend working for Uber to their friends.

We need to update our definitions of self-employment so the self-employed, workers, employees and employers have greater clarity.

But defining self-employment in statute must support, not undermine, the gig economy, and the immense value its businesses are creating for society.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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