Uber’s gig economy fight could be about to head to Britain’s highest court with a decision due in a landmark case over workers rights coming on Friday.
It’s another crucial test that has the potential to upend its business in the UK following a row with regulators which had put its London operations at risk. And the decision is also expected to have wide-ranging implications for the gig economy in Britain.
An employment tribunal earlier ruled two Uber drivers should be considered workers with rights to minimum wage, holiday and sick pay among other benefits. A judgement will be made on Friday in Uber’s appeal against that decision.
Uber is expected to ask for the case to be fast-tracked straight to the UK’s Supreme Court if the decision goes against them and they decide to appeal.
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“Regardless of if Uber or the drivers win, the unsuccessful party is likely to appeal and from what we know, they [Uber] have already mentioned an expedited procedure,” said Anna McCaffrey, an employment lawyer at Taylor Wessing.
Jason Moyer Lee, the head of the IWGB union which represents the two drivers said: “Given that they [Uber] raised the prospect [in the hearing], it’s possible that it could go to the Supreme Court.”
A separate case involving similar arguments over worker status with Pimlico Plumbers has been referred to the Supreme Court.
In February the London firm was dealt a blow when the Court of Appeal sided with an earlier decision made in an employment tribunal that a plumber was not self-employed and therefore entitled to worker rights. But it was granted the right to appeal to the Supreme Court over the summer and the case is expected to be heard early next year.
The similarities between the two cases and a request to leap frog the court of appeal means the Supreme Court could consider the two cases together, said McCafferty, bringing a final decision in the case “sooner rather than later”.
The status of workers in the gig economy has been under serious scrutiny. The government has yet to respond to the outcome of an independent review into modern working practices.
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Uber argues that its drivers are self-employed and the majority value the flexibility of such work, but has also made some concessions in recent months to support drivers, offering discount rates on cover for illness and injury, for example.
If it loses its fight, it faces a potential flood of similar claims from its 50,000 UK drivers, as do other gig economy companies. The firm is under pressure on several fronts and in London is embroiled in a legal fight with Transport for London which decided not to renew its licence to operate in the capital.
Meanwhile, another similar but separate case, this time involving City Sprint couriers, is due to be heard at the employment tribunal appeals court at the end of the month. A group of Deliveroo drivers last week launched a workers rights claim.